Amherst Men's Basketball to Face Ursinus in National Semifinal

By Ben Kaplan ‘09

Senior Andrew Olson and the '08
Lord Jeffs are headed for Salem.

AMHERST, MA –The defending national champion Amherst College men’s basketball team will travel to Salem, VA for the third consecutive year to compete in the NCAA Division III Final Four this coming weekend. The 3rd-ranked Lord Jeffs will take on #16 Ursinus College at 5 p.m. this Friday, with the nightcap pitting top-ranked Hope College against #11 Washington University-St. Louis, in a battle of Midwest powers at 7 p.m.

The Bears of Ursinus won an overtime thriller in the sectional finals over Coast Guard to punch their first ticket to the semifinals since 1981.  Sophomore guard Remy Cousart nailed two free throws with just 17 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, and the Bears cruised in overtime to an 82-76 win, ending Coast Guard’s Cinderella run. 
The Jeffs earned the chance to repeat by avenging their December loss to Brandeis University, with a 65-55 win at Plattsburgh State. Senior Fletcher Walters (Ann Arbor, MI) poured in 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while classmates Kevin Hopkins (Greenfield Center, NY) and Brandon Jones (Hopatcong, NJ) also reached double-figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively.  The night before, Amherst topped Richard Stockton College 85-77, after jumping out to a 17-0 lead.  Senior captain, and reigning two-time Sectional MVP, Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) scored 24 points, hitting a trio of long-balls.  A week earlier, the Jeffs demolished John Jay College 96-74 after an opening-round bye.  

Before defeating Coast Guard, Ursinus bested Gettysburg College, last year’s runner-up Virginia Wesleyan College, and Baptist Bible College.  The Bears, Centennial Conference champions, boast a 29-2 record (18-0 CC) and are riding a 23-game winning streak.  Despite being located in Collegeville, PA, the Bears are familiar with NESCAC competition, going 2-1 against the conference on the season.  They dropped their season opener 88-73 to Williams College, then topped Middlebury College 80-71 in late December and beat conference-champ Trinity College on January 3rd, 69-56.  Senior guard Nick Shattuck leads the Bears, averaging 22.3 points per game, and junior guard John Noonan has been hot of late, leading Ursinus in scoring in their last two games, averaging 21.5 points per game in the span.

The semifinal showdown will pit two of the nation’s most efficient teams, with both ranking in the top-10 in field goal percentage.  Amherst (2nd) shoots 52.7% from the field, while Ursinus (10th) makes 50.5% of its shots.  Both teams also shoot over 41% from beyond the arc, Ursinus shooting a 6th-best 41.8%, with Amherst right behind them at 41.4%.  The Bears also prevent their opponents from shooting well, with opponents shooting 38.8% against them, 7th best in the country.  The Lord Jeff defense protects the basket better than any team in the country, blocking an average of 6.2 shots per game. 

Team Celebration
The 2008 Jeffs look to repeat as National Champions.

Washington University, who lost a thriller to Virginia Wesleyan in last year’s semifinals, return to Salem after navigating through arguably the most difficult path to the Final Four.  They defeated #17 Wooster College by five, then knocked off #6 Augustana College and Buena Vista College in overtime, and finally beat #14 Millsaps College by nine points.  The Bears will have their hands full with Hope, winners of 12 straight.

The Flying Dutchmen, champions of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, topped Wheaton College 83-70 Saturday evening to win their section. 

Games will again take place at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Virginia once again this weekend. Tickets will be sold at the door for single day admission, or in advance on each campus for a weekend package. At Amherst, tickets for the entire Final Four can be purchased at Alumni Gymnasium from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, and from 10:00 a.m. to noon on Wednesday. Advance package tickets are $25.00 for adults, and $12.50 for students and children. At the Civic Center, single day tickets may be purchased for $15.00 for adults, and $7.50 for students and children.

Once again, NCAA Sports will be webcasting live video of the semifinal games and Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. consolation game. Links to live statistics and video are available on the championship website at by clicking here.

WAMH, and Amherst College senior Justin Epner, will be calling live audio from the games as well on the Amherst website. You can listen to the WAMH call by clicking here.

Amherst College Athletics would once again like to offer a viewing party in Stirn Auditorium on campus for anyone who would like to watch the semifinal game alongside fellow Lord Jeff fans.

Saturday’s 4 p.m. National Championship game will be aired live on CBS College Sports Network (formerly, CSTV). Live audio broadcasts will be available on the championship website as well.