AMHERST, Mass. -- LeFrak Gymnasium
plays host to its first NCAA game since March 6, 1997 on Thursday
night, as the host Lord Jeffs, the three seed in the Northeast
Region of the Division III NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, host
sixth-seeded Western New England College for the right to face
second-seeded Salem State College on Saturday.
The Jeffs (18-5), who have won seven games in a row, received the lone at-large bid in the region thanks to a huge 95-79 victory at Connecticut College on Saturday, a win that snapped the Camels' 25-game home winning streak. Senior Co-captain Chris Smith (Swarthmore, PA) led the way with his sixth-straight double-double, matching a career-high with 25 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.
For the season, the Jeff offense has featured a balanced and talented scoring attack, with four players, led by junior guard Erik Kelly (Staples, MN) averaging double-figures. Kelly's 14.3 points per game have come largely from downtown, where he has connected on 62 of 146 three-point attempts (42.5 percent) for the season. Smith's inside play leads a stellar Amherst backcourt, rounded out by fellow Co-captain Hugh Quattlebaum (Andover, MA) and senior Jackson Collins (Brooklyn, NY). Junior point guard Brian Daoust (Dover, MA) joins Kelly in the Jeff frontcourt, showing a scoring touch with a 12.0 points-per-game average, while freshmen Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH), Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) and Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) have all provided important contributions off the Amherst bench, as the Jeffs have averaged 80.2 points per game, their third-highest single-season total ever.
The Golden Bears (22-5) enter tonight's game coming off an 84-74 win over Emerson College in Monday night's Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship game, a win which sealed the GNAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. WNEC has posted wins in 15 of their last 16 games, on their way to a 17-2 record in conference matches.
Five different Bears average in double figures for scoring, led by the duo of senior Co-captain Ryan Abraham (Newington, CT) and junior forward Eric Stewart (Ft. Montgomery, NY). Abraham has averaged 15.6 points per game for the season, while Stewart has posted a team-best 9.1 rebounds per game to go along with just under 15 points per outing. Co-captain Tom Keane (Yonkers, NY) and forward Lew Larabee (Worcester, MA) have stepped up their scoring down the stretch, with Larabee setting a new career-high with 25 points in Monday night's GNAC final.
Rookie guard Mike O'Connor (Farmington, CT) has been stellar running the Western New England point, posting 125 assists for his rookie season, while sophomore center Andrew Thornton (Chicopee, MA) has also seen solid time in the Golden Bear frontcourt.
The two teams have met once already this season, with the Jeffs prevailing, 80-64, in Springfield on December 7, though the Jeffs and Bears have never previously met in the postseason.
For Media Credentials, please call Sarah Lukaska, Amherst's Sports Information Director, at (413) 542-2390