Amherst's "Sweet 16" to be Played in Familiar Territory
AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College men’s basketball team will travel to Williamstown, Mass., this weekend to compete in the NCAA Division III Tournament Sectional Rounds. Making their ninth appearance in the “Sweet 16,” the Lord Jeffs will have to get through some familiar opponents if they want to earn a spot in the “Final Four.”
Game Schedule: Amherst will take on Rhode Island College Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Williams College’s Chandler Gym, followed by the Ephs hosting Virginia Wesleyan College at 7:30 p.m. Friday’s winners will advance to Saturday’s national quarterfinal matchup, which is set to begin at 7 p.m.
Ticket Information: Tickets for each day will be $7 for adults and $4 for senior citizens, students with a valid ID, and children two and older. Doors to Chandler Gym will open at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. More information about ticket sales is available on the Williams website.
Live Coverage: Each of this weekend’s games will feature a free webcast and live statistics.
Weekend Preview: Amherst (24-3) entered the national tournament with only one win in its last four chances, but the Lord Jeffs put the disappointing stretch behind them by earning a 79-39 win over Skidmore College in the opening round, marking the largest margin of victory in the bracket. The Thoroughbreds held a 7-2 lead after six minutes, but the Jeffs kicked it into high gear and quickly took control with a 24-4 run that proved to be the difference maker.
After recording a double-double against Skidmore, Conor Meehan ’11 continued to impress with 20 points and 10 assists in a 92-70 win over WPI the following night. In his past three NCAA Tournament games the senior co-captain is averaging 17.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists, as he now ranks third among all-time assist leaders in school history and is only 20 points shy of becoming the program’s 24th player to score 1,000 points.
Amherst had to cancel its scheduled Feb. 1 meeting with Rhode Island College due to inclement weather, but fans will finally be treated to a make-up game. The teams have split their past two meetings, including a 105-84 result that went Amherst’s way last year thanks to 23 points from Jeff Holmes ’12. The Lord Jeffs and Anchormen have met only once in the NCAA Tournament, an 81-69 Amherst win in the 2007 quarterfinals, which led to the program’s first national title.
Although it is difficult for Lord Jeff fans to resist looking ahead to the possibility of another rematch with Williams, Amherst faces a difficult test on Friday. Rhode Island College (21-7) got off to an 11-7 start, with its only game against the NESCAC resulting in a 69-58 loss to Colby, but the Anchormen have won 10 straight as champions of the Little East Conference.
The Anchormen opened their NCAA Tournament with a convincing 83-54 win over Penn State-Behrend, closing the first half on a 12-2 run and getting a combined 35 points from Antone Gray and Mike Akinrola. The next day RIC got only four points from its bench and attempted only 38 field goals in the game, but 55 percent of those shots went in as the Anchormen eliminated Oswego State, 71-63. This weekend will mark the program’s second consecutive appearance in the “Sweet 16” and the third in the past five years.
Williams (27-2) was among the favorites to contend for this year’s national title, but the Ephs nearly suffered one of the most shocking losses in tournament history when they were taken to overtime by Husson University in the opening round. The Eagles’ had the final shot of regulation but could not knock it down, as Williams held on for an 86-83 win in extra time. James Wang finished with 30 points, seven of which came after regulation.
The second round did not feature any late-game drama for the Ephs, who shot 50 percent from the floor and got another 20 points from Wang during an 84-63 win over Becker College. The Ephs are 32-10 in 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and have finished in third place or better on five occasions, notably winning the 2003 title and most recently suffering a 78-73 loss to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in last year’s championship game.
The Marlins of Virginia Wesleyan College (25-4) also have a strong men’s basketball tradition, having been crowned national champions in 2006 before returning to the title game in 2007, when they suffered an 80-67 loss to Amherst. Virginia Wesleyan is making its seventh consecutive tournament appearance and 11th overall, posting a 14-11 mark since its first run in 1978.
The Marlins used double-doubles from Chris Astorga and Rakeem Davis and 21 points from Donald Vaughn to cruise past Delaware Valley in the opening round, 93-63, but they had to play catch-up to escape the following day. Trailing Franklin & Marshall by seven at halftime (40-33) and by nine with 10 minutes to play (60-51), Virginia Wesleyan finally took the lead when Vaughn hit a jumper with 3:19 to go as part of an 8-0 run that sealed the deal.
Three NESCAC teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament, but a maximum of two will remain after this weekend. Middlebury will hit the road to take on Rochester on Friday, with a win putting the Panthers in the quarterfinal round to face either Buffalo State or Saint Mary’s. Should Amherst and Williams meet on Saturday it would mark the fourth time the rivals have clashed in the national tournament, with the Ephs winning in the 1997 second round (86-63), the 2003 quarterfinals (91-74) and the 2004 semifinals (86-61).