Amherst Basketball Teams Set for NESCAC Quarterfinal Round

AMHERST, MA – The 2010 NESCAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships are set to begin Saturday, Feb. 20, with the top-seeded Amherst College women hosting eighth-seeded Wesleyan University at 3 p.m., and the sixth-seeded Lord Jeff men traveling to take on third-seeded Colby College at 4 p.m. The semifinal and final rounds will take place Saturday, Feb. 27, and Sunday, Feb. 28, at the highest remaining seed in each tournament. Complete previews for the men's and women's tournaments can be found on the NESCAC website.

The top-ranked Lord Jeffs have had plenty to smile about this season.

#1 Amherst (24-0, 9-0) vs. #8 Wesleyan (8-14, 2-7)
Ticket Information: For the NESCAC Women's Championship quarterfinal round, tickets will be $3 for adults and $1 for students with a valid ID. Children (six and under) will be admitted free of charge. Doors to LeFrak Gymnasium will open Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Amherst students will be admitted free of charge with a College ID!

Live Coverage:
Saturday’s quarterfinal game will feature live statistics and a free live webcast courtesy of JeffCast.

Game Preview:
Amherst posted a 2-5 record in NESCAC Championship play in its first five tournament appearances but is 5-1 in the past two years, having won the 2008 title and advanced to the 2009 finals. The Lord Jeffs and Cardinals have met in the conference tournament only once, with fifth-seeded Amherst upsetting fourth-seeded Wesleyan in the 2005 opening round, 55-53.

These teams have already met twice this season, with the Jeffs earning an 80-53 win Jan. 6 at Wesleyan before cruising to an 89-49 victory Jan. 15 in Amherst. The Jeffs received double-doubles from Lem Atanga McCormick ’12 and Sarah Leyman ’11 in the Jan. 6 meeting, while five players finished in double figures in the Jan. 15 contest that saw Amherst shoot 56 percent from the field and 61 percent from long range.

Amherst has been ranked No. 1 in the Top 25 Poll for three consecutive weeks, and joins No. 12 Christopher Newport (23-0) and No. 21 Farmingdale State (22-0) as the only unbeaten teams remaining in Division III. Second-ranked Kean (24-1) has matched Amherst’s 24-game winning streak, with its only loss coming at the hands of Division I Rutgers in the season opener. In addition to building on the longest winning streak in program history, the Jeffs will also be looking to add to their 20-game home winning streak, which dates back to last season.

Despite battling injuries throughout the season, Amherst still leads Division III in scoring margin (+29.2) and ranks fourth in scoring defense (48.3 ppg). The Jeffs have won each of their past three games by at least 25 points, while five of their 11 victories at home have come by at least 40 points. The only other NESCAC team to finish the regular season at 24-0 is the 2003-04 Bowdoin squad, which won the conference title, advanced to the NCAA finals and finished with a 30-1 record.

Steve Wheeler '10 will look to lead Amherst to its first NESCAC title since 2006.

#3 Colby (18-5, 6-3) vs. #6 Amherst (14-10, 3-6)
Ticket Information: Tickets for Saturday’s NESCAC Men's Championship quarterfinal game will be $4 for adults and $2 for students with a valid ID. Children (12 and under) will be admitted free of charge. Doors to Wadsworth Gymnasium will open at 1 p.m.

Live Coverage:
Saturday’s quarterfinal game will feature live statistics and a live audio broadcast.

Game Preview:
Amherst head coach Dave Hixon ’75 is 21-5 in NESCAC Championship history with four conference titles and four runner-up finishes under his belt. The Lord Jeffs are 9-0 all-time in quarterfinal games, but this is the first year they will not be playing on their home court in the opening round. Amherst is 3-0 against Colby in conference tournament history, having upset the second-seeded Mules in the 2001 semifinals before knocking them off as the top seed in 2007 and 2008.

Colby successfully defended its home court with a 72-68 win over Amherst Jan. 30, with neither team leading by more than five points in the second half of the thrilling back-and-forth affair. Mike Russell ’11 (20 points), Adam Choice ’10 (19) and Christian Van Loenen ’11 (16) combined to shoot 22-for-36 (.611) from the floor in that game, with Rusell adding 10 rebounds. The Lord Jeffs won the rebounding battle, 39-29, but shot only 4-of-16 (.250) from three-point range and 12-of-21 (.571) from the free throw line.

The Jeffs lead the NESCAC in rebounding margin (+8.0) and rank second in scoring offense (76.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (.481), but they will be going up against one of the conference’s top defenses. The Mules are allowing 61.9 points per game and opponents are shooting only 38.6 percent, both of which rank second in the NESCAC. Russell leads the conference in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and Choice is second in scoring (19.2 ppg), while Amherst’s Steve Wheeler ’10 leads the way in three-pointers made per game (3.0). Wheeler is second on the program’s career three-point field goal list (191) and needs eight to become the all-time leader.

The Jeffs got off to an 8-1 start and won 13 of their first 16 games, but they have dropped seven of their past eight and each of their past five. Colby has also struggled as of late, posting a 2-3 record in the past five games after getting off to a 7-0 start and winning 16 of its first 18. While Amherst has lost 10 games for the first time since the 1990-91 season, the Mules’ 18 victories mark the program’s highest win total in at least 10 years.