Jeffs Heading to Williams for NESCAC Championship Final Rounds

NESCAC%20Championship%20LogoCourtesy of the NESCAC

Game Schedule: Saturday’s first semifinal will feature top-seeded Williams (24-1, 9-0) hosting fourth-seeded Trinity (14-11, 4-5) at 2 p.m., followed by Middlebury (23-1, 8-1) taking on Amherst (22-2, 7-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday’s winners will advance to play in Sunday’s championship game, which will begin at noon. Games will be played at Williams College's Chandler Gymnasium in Williamstown, Mass.

Ticket Information: Tickets for each day will be $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens, and $2 for students with a valid ID and for children under the age of 12. Tickets for Saturday’s games will be sold in advance on Friday, Feb. 25, from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 2-4 p.m. in Room 1202 of Amherst College's Alumni Gymnasium.

Live Coverage: Each of this weekend’s three games will feature a live webcast and live statistics.

Amherst%20No. 2 Amherst vs. No. 3 Middlebury
The Lord Jeffs have won more tournament games than any other team in the NESCAC—22 in all—and are tied with Williams in conference crowns with four apiece. It’s been awhile since Amherst last celebrated a NESCAC championship, though, as the Jeffs have fallen in the final to Williams (2007) and Middlebury (2009) since taking the title in 2006. Hoping to reverse the recent trend is one of the deepest Jeff squads in recent memory, with five players averaging double figures in scoring. Conor Meehan ’11 and Aaron Toomey ’14 lead the way at 13.0 and 12.4 points per game, respectively, with Taylor Barrise ’12 (11.2 ppg) roaming the perimeter, Pete Kaasila ’13 (10.3 ppg) handling the paint and Willy Workman ’13 (11.5 ppg) doing a little bit of everything.

Amherst controlled its own destiny heading into the final weekend of the regular season, but the Lord Jeffs came up short of the No. 1 seed as they lost two close contests, 69-61 at Middlebury on Feb. 11 and 74-70 at Williams on Feb. 12. Notably, the game at Middlebury featured 13 ties and 20 lead changes, as neither team led by more than four until the Panthers bumped their advantage to five with 3:30 remaining in regulation. Amherst returned to its winning ways during the quarterfinals, eventually pulling away from sixth-seeded Bates in a 77-61 final. The Jeffs’ five leading scorers each finished in double figures against Bates, with Kaasila totaling 18 points and nine boards.

The past four years have been some of the most historic for Middlebury. The Panthers earned their first tournament victory in 2008, claimed the program’s first NESCAC championship in 2009, won the most games in program history 2010, and reached the NCAA Tournament in all three years. This season, Middlebury completed its conference schedule with an 8-1 mark for the third consecutive year, suffering its only loss of the season in a 69-64 setback at Williams on Jan. 29 in a rematch of the 2010 title game.

Defense has been a key component to the Panthers’ recent success and this year is no exception. Middlebury sits atop the conference and is among the top 10 nationally in points allowed, averaging a league-low 56.6 points per game, while also holding opponents to a .346 shooting percentage and a .294 showing from beyond the arc, both conference bests. During Saturday’s quarterfinal against seventh-seeded Connecticut College, the Panthers left little doubt as the Camels only managed 41 points on .222 shooting, the lowest totals in tournament history. Looking to lead their team to two more victories this weekend will be the tandem of Ryan Sharry and Andrew Locke. Sharry averages a double-double with 13.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on .556 shooting, while the 6’10 Locke is third in scoring (10.8 ppg) and first in blocks, as his 4.05 rejections per game headline the conference’s best swat team.

WilliamsNo. 1 Williams vs. No. 4 Trinity
For Williams, the 2010-11 campaign has already had quite a few similarities to last year’s remarkable season. The Ephs marched through the conference schedule undefeated for the second year in a row, and head into the semifinals once again with a 24-1 record after dispatching Bowdoin in the quarterfinals this past Saturday, 82-62. Williams’ lone loss came at the hands of Amherst during the annual non-conference meeting between the two back on Jan. 8, a 92-89 overtime decision in favor of the Lord Jeffs.

The Ephs have been dominant all season thanks to the strong play of senior Troy Whittington and junior James Wang, both of whom rank among the top five scorers in the conference. The prolific Wang is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor and heads up the Eph offense with 18.4 points per game. Whittington, who missed four games midway through the year due to injury, is second for Williams in scoring at 16.8 points, as he leads the nation in field goal percentage at .714 while also grabbing a team-best 9.3 rebounds per game. The two former All-NESCAC honorees are not only strong candidates for this year’s All-Conference First Team but are also top contenders for the league’s Player of the Year award.
While the Bantams knew heading into the last weekend of the regular season that they would be home during the quarterfinal round, they also knew that facing Williams and Middlebury would not be an easy road trip. After falling to the Ephs on Friday by an 86-60 score, Trinity turned around the next afternoon and held the league’s top defensive team to its lowest point total of the year in a tight 57-56 loss to the Panthers. It may not have been the result the Bantams wanted, but it did provide them a bit of momentum heading into a first-round showdown with a resurgent Tufts squad that they handled on Saturday, 70-47. The victory over the Jumbos returned Trinity to the semifinals for the first time since it ran all the way to its first conference crown in 2008.

This weekend features the top four teams in the NESCAC in terms of defense, with Trinity and Williams tied for second having both allowed 60.9 points per game this year. When it comes to offense, the Ephs are second to none as they have outscored the opposition by 22.1 points per game, roughly 17 points more than the Bantams. Saturday’s first semifinal will be the second meeting between the two in tournament history after Williams upended Trinity 91-89 in the semis en route to the 2007 title. Leading the way for the Bantams this weekend will be the senior tandem of Luke MacDougall and Brian Ford. The pair leads Trinity in scoring this season, with MacDougall averaging 13.3 points per game and Ford coming in at 12.6 per contest.