WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Behind a 33-point performance from James Wang– including 24 in the first half – the Ephs defeated Amherst 74-70 today in Chandler Gymnasium. The two teams faced off earlier this season, a decision that Amherst won 92-89 in overtime; the game was the Ephs' only loss of the year.
Coach Mike Maker commented on his team's growth from earlier in the year: "I thought we played well at Amherst in the loss. Actually, I thought we played better there than we did at home. But we had more defensive discipline this game than we did the last game. We weren't as efficient offensively minus Troy and James, but our defense was much better. I think we fed off the energy of our crowd, and we obviously really appreciate the support from our student body and our community."
With today's win, Williams (23-1, 9-0 NESCAC) scored its second straight undefeated NESCAC regular season. They also shared the Little Three crown with Amherst, who moved to 21-2 on the year (7-2 NESCAC). Coach Maker has won or shared the Little Three title in all three of his seasons as head coach; the last two years, Williams won the title outright.
Said Coach Maker about the Ephs' undefeated regular-season in the conference, "We have really good players and a rich tradition, and as proud as I am about the way our players perform on the court, I love them as people off the court. They're great kids, and I really appreciate everything they do for the school and our program."
The Ephs' offense began with four straight baskets from Wang, who dribbled past and backed down defenders to give the Ephs their first four hoops. With 16:47 to play, Harlan Dodson swooshed a 3-pointer from a few steps behind the arc to give the Ephs the early 11-4 lead and force the Lord Jeffs to call their first timeout. Just as it looked like Amherst might get back in it after a beautiful hook shot from Jeff Holmes, Wang knocked down a long ball from the left corner with 14:51 to play.
Just over two minutes later, the Lord Jeffs showed some 3-point shooting of their own as David Waller knocked down a 3-pointer from the top-of-the-key to cut the lead to one. On the ensuing possession, Willy Workman added another three. The Lord Jeffs topped off the run with a swoosh from the top of the arc from Holmes that forced the Ephs to use their first timeout with 11:16 to play.
Just as the Ephs needed a hoop, Wang delivered. He hit a step-back 3-pointer with 7:00 to play to cut the Amherst lead to two and then hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game with 5:52 to play. The two teams continued to trade baskets for the rest of the half. The Ephs, however, were able to take a lead behind two Wang 3-pointers. They went into the locker room with the 44-36 lead and the momentum after Nate Robertson stole the ball with seconds remaining and took it the length of the court. The Lord Jeffs were called for goaltending, and Robertson was credited with the basket as he buzzer sounded.
Said Coach Maker about Wang's incredible first half, "James is a special player. We set a lot of high ball screens for him; it allows him to use his ability. I've said it before; he's a nightmare to defend because he's got a multidimensional game. He can go down and make his free throws; he gets all the way to the basket to lay it in, or he'll shoot a three if you go under. Our strategy was to get our guards some ball screen action and let them play freely within our structure, and I thought we got a lot of good looks because of it."
Amherst came out of the locker room on fire. Behind a 3-pointer from the top-of-the-key and a put back off of a rebound – both from Taylor Barrise – they cut the lead to three. Two possessions later, Workman swooshed a long ball from the right corner to tie the game up at 46 all. A few possessions later, Wang hit a 3-poimer from the top-of-the-key and Taylor Epley added one from the left corner with a hand in his face, but Amherst did not go away. Aaron Toomey and Barrise each hit 3-pointers of their own to tie the game back up at 54 with just under 12 minutes to play. As the two teams fought back and forth for a lead, the Ephs found a momentum jump from Troy Whittington with 6:32 to play when he tied the game up at 62 with a dunk off of a jump stop. On the ensuing possession, he was sent another message when he dunked again as the ball bounced out of the hoop off of a 3-pointer attempt.
The game was a one-point game until James Klemm hit his first hoop of the day, a three from the top-of-the-key with 1:15 to play to give the Ephs the 74-70 lead. Although Amherst was forced to foul, the Ephs could not convert the front-ends of one-and-one opportunities, and it remained a two-possession game for the final 30 seconds. Although the Lord Jeffs found a few final second opportunities, they were unable to finish, and the Ephs walked off the court unbeaten in the NESCAC.
As a team, the Ephs shot 44.4% from the field today. Amherst shot 40.3%. Leading the way for the Lord Jeffs was Workman with 22 points.
NESCAC postseason play begins next week. The Ephs will take on Bowdoin on Saturday at 2:00. The final standings of the regular season as well as the postseason matchups can be seen below.
Said Coach Maker looking ahead to next week, "I'm going to enjoy this one, and I want my players to as well. We're going to take a couple days off. I think [they're] emotionally spent from the preparation for the week and everything they've been through out the year. We need to recharge our battery and then we'll get ready for our opponent on Tuesday."
Today's game can be seen on Pittsfield Community TV. The first airing will be tomorrow evening at 6:00. To check future showings or watch a video on demand version, see the following:
NESCAC Men's Basketball Final Standings
No. 1 Williams (9-0)
No. 2 Middlebury (8-1)
No. 3 Amherst (7-2)
No. 4 Trinity (4-5) *
No. 5 Tufts (4-5) *
No. 6 Bates (3-6) ^
No. 7 Connecticut College (3-6) ^
No. 8 Bowdoin (3-6) ^
No. 9 Wesleyan (2-7)
No. 10 Colby (2-7)
The following tie-breakers have been applied:
* - Trinity and Tufts finished with identical records of 4-5. Head-to-head, Trinity defeated Tufts, therefore Trinity is No. 4, Tufts No. 5.
^ - Bates, Connecticut College, and Bowdoin all finished with identical records of 3-6. Head-to-head, Bates is 2-0, Connecticut College is 1-1, Bowdoin is 0-2. Therefore, Bates is No. 6, Connecticut College is No. 7, Bowdoin is #8
2011 Men's Basketball Championship Seeding
Quarterfinals – Saturday, February 19 at higher seeds
No. 8 Bowdoin at No. 1 Williams – 2:00 p.m.
No. 7 Connecticut College at No. 2 Middlebury – 3:00 p.m.
No. 6 Bates at No. 3 Amherst – 2:00 p.m.
No. 5 Tufts at No. 4 Trinity – 3:00 p.m.
Semifinals – Saturday, February 26 at highest remaining seed (2:00 p.m./4:00 p.m.)
Highest remaining seed vs. Lowest remaining seed
Remaining quarterfinal winners
Championship – Sunday, February 27 at 12:00 p.m.