SALEM, Va. — Williams (28-4) hit on 56.7 percent of its field-goal attempts in the first half to build a 45-32 lead at the break against defending NCAA DIII champion and archrival Amherst (27-4) on the way to a 98-69 win Friday and a berth in Saturday’s title tilt.
As well as the Ephs shot in the first half they were even better in the second half, connecting on 70 percent of their 30 shots.
Couple hot shooting with a solid zone defense that limited Amherst to 38.2 percent shooting in the first half and 38.6 percent for the game and you have the recipe for a Williams win that ended an eight-game Amherst win streak in the series, an 11-game Lord Jeff win streak coming into the game, and extended the Ephs’ mastery against Amherst in the NCAA tournament to 5-0 all time.
“I must be an idiot because I am so stubborn about playing man and we had not been able to guard them,” Ephs head coach Mike Maker said. “But at Mary Washington our zone was terrific so we gave Amherst 40 minutes of zone [Friday night].”
“We looked at the numbers and when we played zone we held them to 40 percent shooting and in man it was 50 percent and they got to the foul line — I’m stubborn about man, but we’re a zone team now.
“I don’t think anyone saw that coming, but I’m really proud of our team because we’ve battled through some things injury-wise and we are playing well now. I know we are tough to guard and I thought if we could pick up our defense we would be dangerous.”
The Williams 2-3 zone was so effective that Amherst’s leading scorer Aaron Toomey (20.5 ppg) was held to just three shots in the first half, all misses, and three points on the night. Toomey had eight shots on the night.
A Connor Green jumper from 12 feet gave Amherst the lead, 18-17, for the second and last time of the contest at 11:33 of the first half.
A drive down the lane by the Ephs’ Duncan Robinson on Williams’ next possession answered the Green bucket with 11:16 left and Williams never looked back. A layup and two 3s by Robinson powered the Eph surge during the last 10 minutes of the first half that created the 13-point advantage.
In the first half the Ephs hit on 7 of 14 3-pointers, while Amherst made 4 of 14. Williams had 19 rebounds to 15 for the Lord Jeffs and although the Ephs led in turnovers, 7-6, they also led in assists 11-6.
Robinson hit a 3 to open the second half and that was followed by a jumper in the lane by Mike Greenman, and then a 3 by Taylor Epley and another 3-point bomb by Greenman from in front of Williams’ bench, boosting the Ephs’ lead to 56-32 before David Kalema of Amherst stopped the Eph run at 17:24 with a traditional three-point play.The efficiency of the Eph offense began to wear down the Amherst defense.
“There’s not a whole lot to say other than congratulations to Williams,” Amherst head coach Dave Hixon said. “They played great. They shot the ball really well and the harder we chased them the better they executed their offense and got layups out of it.”
Every time Amherst would find a way to score a hoop in the second half the Ephs would answer with two and sometimes three of their own and the lead continually expanded until it reached its peak at 30, 96-66, on a Greenman jumper off penetration with 2:31 to play.
Robinson led all scorers with 30 points, connecting on 13 of 18 shots.
“The whole year the team has been very supportive of me and the upperclassmen have been great,” Robinson, a sophomore, said. “This game it was me, but [Saturday] it could be someone else. Thirteen of 18 from the floor — that’s just guys getting me open and getting me good looks and also, we have other guys on the team who draw a lot of attention defensively.”
Robinson had company in double figures with Mike Mayer netting 19, Epley 18, Greenman 12 and Dan Wohl 10.
Mayer recorded his fifth consecutive double-double in the NCAA tournament, snaring 10 rebounds. Wohl handed out eight assists.
Green led Amherst with 26 and Tom Killian added 20.
“In the locker room at halftime we talked about how we needed to keep working hard and we would win the first five minutes of the second half and then the next five,” Wohl said.
Williams will take on Wisconsin-Whitewater after the Warhawks downed Illinois Wesleyan 71-63 behind 30 points from KJ Evans.
“Whitewater is a very talented, well-coached team, and their quickness will be a challenge for us,” Maker said. “They’re more than a one-person team.”
Maker now has the most NCAA tournament wins at Williams and is 16-3 (.842)
The Ephs will play in their fourth NCAA title tilt, winning in 2003.
Williams will take a five-game win streak into the title game.