Amherst Heading to WPI to Begin NCAA Title Run
AMHERST, MA – Amherst College will compete in the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament for the 13th time when the Lord Jeffs travel to Worcester Polytechnic Institute this weekend to take on Skidmore College in the opening round.
Game Schedule: Tip-off for Friday’s Amherst-Skidmore game is set for 5:30 p.m. at Harrington Auditorium in Worcester, Mass. The host Engineers will then take on Bridgewater State College at 7:30 p.m. Friday’s winners will square off Saturday at 7 p.m. with a trip to the sectional round on the line.
Ticket Information: Information on ticket sales will be posted here as soon as it is made available.
Live Coverage: Each of this weekend’s games will feature a live webcast and live statistics. An audio-only broadcast will also be available.
Weekend Preview: Amherst (22-3) returns to the national stage as an at-large selection after missing out on the action a year ago. Head coach Dave Hixon ’75 has led his teams to a 24-13 record in NCAA Tournament play, advancing to at least the quarterfinal round on six occasions and winning the national title in 2007. The Lord Jeffs suffered a 68-62 setback to Gwynedd-Mercy College in their last tournament appearance, marking the first and only time Amherst has lost in the opening round. Conor Meehan ’11 nearly recorded a triple-double in that game, totaling 18 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and three steals in a valiant effort.
Meehan leads Amherst in scoring this season with 13.2 points per game, leaving him only 55 shy of 1,000 for his career. In four games since returning to the lineup, Willy Workman ’13 has averaged 13.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks as a bright spot for the Jeffs, who are 1-3 since winning their first 21 games of the season. Those three losses have come by a total of only 18 points, as Amherst fell just short of picking up some impressive road wins against exceptional Middlebury and Williams teams.
The Jeffs averaged 89.1 points and shot 52 percent from the floor in their first 19 games, but they are scoring just over 70 points while shooting 39 percent since then. Two areas in which Amherst has not seen a drop-off are rebounding and free throw shooting, as the team is averaging 42.3 boards and hitting 80 percent of its attempts from the stripe in the past six games. The Jeffs are 17-0 at home but will have to finish out their season on the road, where sophomore center Pete Kaasila is averaging a team-best 14.0 points per contest.
The Thoroughbreds of Skidmore (18-9) are making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance thanks to a 68-52 win over Hamilton in the Liberty League Championship game. Amherst and Skidmore last met on Nov. 22, 2008, when the Jeffs held off a late comeback for a 100-97 win. The Thoroughbreds were led by their first-years in that game, with Terron Victoria ’12 pouring in 29 points thanks to a 5-of-5 performance from beyond the arc and a 6-of-6 showing at the line.
Victoria is one highlight of a young Skidmore team that features only one senior but has already won the most games since the program began NCAA Division III play in 1985. Melvis Langyintuo ’12 leads the team in scoring (10.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.1), while Jeff Altimar ’11 (10.4 ppg) and Gerard O’Shea ’12 (10.3 ppg) are two of seven other players averaging at least 5.0 points per game. The Thoroughbreds are riding a five-game win streak and are 9-2 in their past 11, but they have struggled against the NESCAC this season. Skidmore has already suffered losses to Tufts (79-67), Middlebury (85-72) and Williams (84-61), with its lone win against the NESCAC coming on Dec. 10 against Trinity (61-56).
The Engineers of WPI (22-5) had to rely on an at-large selection after being upset by MIT in the NEWMAC Tournament finals. WPI is 5-8 in its eight NCAA Tournament appearances, have qualified for five straight from 2005-09. The Engineers were unranked in this year’s D3hoops.com preseason poll after missing out on last year’s tournament, but they used a 13-game win streak to climb as high as No. 10 in the national rankings. They have posted an 11-4 record outside of the NEWMAC, picking up notable wins against RIC (60-59, OT), Becker (82-66) and Trinity (69-61) along the way.
Jeffrey Robinson ’11 leads WPI with nearly 16 points per game, but the 6’3 guard is shooting only 29.9 percent (23-of-77) from the floor and 19.4 percent (6-of-31) from three-point range in his past six outings. Robinson has made 36 percent of his attempts from behind the arc and 89 percent from the line as the team’s biggest shooting threat, while 6’7 center Matt Carr ’12 has been dominant down low. Playing only 23.6 minutes per game, Carr is averaging 12.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting an impressive 59 percent overall.
The Bears of Bridgewater State (19-9) are making their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and sixth overall, having posted a 3-5 record in their first five trips. As the No. 3 seed in the MASCAC Tournament, the Bears snapped top-seeded Salem State’s 16-game win streak to earn their third conference title in as many years. Winners of four straight and eight of its past nine, Bridgewater has picked up big wins over MIT (82-70), Bowdoin (109-108, 2OT) and Trinity (69-61) this year.
Bridgewater has been led by its exceptional senior class. Nicholas Motta ’11 paces the offense with 16.6 points per game, followed closely by guard Judah Jackson ’11 (15.1 ppg). Fellow guard Corey Connor ’11 is shooting 49 percent from long range and 91 percent from the line, while 6’6 center Samuel Johnson ’11 shoots 65.7 percent from the floor and averages 9.8 points, 7.7 boards and 1.2 blocks per game. The Class of 2011 leads a balanced attack that averages 82.4 points per contest and features five players with at least 50 assists.
The Lord Jeffs will have an idea of what to expect from Skidmore after their 2008 meeting, but they have not faced WPI since a 74-57 win in 2002 and have not seen Bridgewater State in at least 15 years. Also representing the NESCAC in this year’s tournament are Middlebury and Williams, as the Jeffs could see the Ephs in the sectional finals but would not meet up with the Panthers until the title game.
NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament
(First and Second Rounds – Played at WPI)
Friday, Mar. 4
Amherst College (22-3) vs. Skidmore College (18-9) – 5:30 p.m.
WPI (22-5) vs. Bridgewater State College (19-9) – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Mar. 5
Friday’s Winners – 7 p.m.
Tournament Bracket (Interactive) * Tournament Bracket (Printable PDF)