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Saturday's NCAA Tournament Second-Round Game Set for 7 p.m.

February 27, 2002

2001-02 Jeffs
Amherst posed for photographs on Tuesday and began preparations for Saturday's NCAA second-round game
AMHERST, MA - Saturday's men's basketball NCAA Tournament second-round game at Amherst College between the host Lord Jeffs and the winner of a first-round matchup between Western Connecticut State University and Salem State College has been set for 7 p.m. Ticket prices are $4.00 for general admission and $3.00 for children and students with valid ID. Doors at LeFrak Gymnasium will open at 5:30 p.m.

Amherst, 21-6 and owners of a six-game winning streak, advanced to their third straight NCAA Tournament by sweeping Bowdoin, Williams and Trinity Colleges en route to their second consecutive NESCAC Postseason Tournament Championship. The Jeffs are led by junior Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA), who was named the NESCAC Player of the Week on Monday. Currently fourth in the NESCAC in scoring (18.1 ppg), fifth in free throw percentage (79.2%) and ninth in rebounding (7.1 rpg), Zieja has established himself as one of the conference's best players, after earning Second-Team All-NESCAC honors as a sophomore. The tri-captain forward has already cracked the career 1,000-point and 500-rebound plateaus and is rapidly climbing Amherst's all-time scoring list. His 1,173 career points (through Sunday) are 11th all-time at Amherst, with the school record of 1,550 career points - set by Jamal Wilson '97 - well within his reach.

His counterpart on the low post is 6-foot-8 junior center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC), Amherst's second-leading scorer and the conference's fourth-leading rebounder at 13.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He also leads the NESCAC in blocked shots (2.7/gm.) and field goal percentage (67.7%) and has a team-high 10 double-doubles on the season, including two in the NESCAC Tournament.

Another junior, point guard Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH), runs the show offensively, dishing out a league second-best 5.4 assists on a nightly basis. With 145 helpers on the season, Faulkner is within striking distance of his own school record for assists, 166, set last year. Joining Faulkner in the backcourt are sophomore sensations Adam Harper (Washington, DC) and John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ). Harper sat out the season's first seven games recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot but returned with a vengeance, tallying a team-high 50 steals and pouring in 11.2 points per game. Donovan is Amherst's third-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game and third in the NESCAC in free throw percentage (81.8%). He's also the Jeffs chief perimeter threat with a team-high 43 three-pointers in 114 attempts.

One of Amherst's greatest assets, however, is the strength of its reserves. Six-foot-seven first-year phenom Andrew Schiel (Abbington, PA) brings an added dimension off the bench. A versatile scorer (8.1 ppg) and defender, Schiel has the ability to bang down low or pop outside for one of his 22 three-pointers. Meanwhile, senior tri-captain swing-man Pat Taverna (Whitesboro, NY) and sophomore guard Frank Perry (Hartford, CT) specialize in shutting down opponents' top offensive players, as Taverna did in Sunday's NESCAC Championship game against conference Player of the Year Candidate Colin Tabb. Another specialist, sophomore sharpshooter John Kloepfer (Buffalo, NY), has 22 three-pointers despite playing just 10.2 minutes per game, while rookie playmaker Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) is the Jeffs' third-leading assist-man with 58. Sophomore forward Tim Jones (Richmond, VA) has also been an effective presence down low, as has senior tri-captain post-player Paul Williams (Franklin, MA).

Postseason experience is another factor. Amherst's junior triumvirate of Zieja, Fitzsimons and Faulkner has now qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of its three seasons, while 25th year head coach Dave Hixon has led the Jeffs to five Tournament berths overall, including a Cinderella run to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1994, their first-ever appearance in the "Big Dance." Hixon also posted his 400th career win earlier this season, and is listed in the NCAA Record Book the 14th winningest active Division III coach in the nation (by total wins) and the 39th winningest coach in NCAA Division III history (by winning percentage - 668).

One of Saturday's prospective opponents, Salem State, earned its fifth automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in the last eight years (and 10th NCAA berth in the program's 13-year history) by virtue of its 83-60 win over Framingham State in the MASCAC Postseason Championship game. At 22-6 overall, the Vikings earned the No. 1 seed in the MASCAC Tournament after capturing the regular-season crown for the 18th time in the last 24 seasons. Sophomore forward Bobby Michalczyk (Lowell, MA) earned his second MASCAC Player of the Week award in the last three weeks after averaging 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in a pair of conference tournament wins. He was a second-team all-conference selection, while junior forward Victor Paulino (Haverhill, MA) was a First-Team All-MASCAC pick after leading the Vikings in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 rpg). Salem State is 0-1 against the NESCAC this season, falling in overtime, 100-96, at Tufts University on November 25.

The Vikings will have their hands full in Thursday's first-round game at Western Connecticut. The Colonials, 20-6 and winners of the Little East Conference, defeated Keene State College, 86-83 in the LEC Championship game and will be making their eighth NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1985-86 season. They're led by senior guard Kevin Matthews (Ossining, NY), who averages 18.6 points while shooting a blistering 63.8% (164-for-257) from the floor. He also leads the team in steals at 2.4 per contest. Senior guard Lenny Rinas (Bristol, CT) adds 12.1 points per game and a team-leading 48 three-pointers to the Colonials' 81.2-point scoring average, while sophomore forward Marvin Evans (Stratford, CT) averages 8.0 points and 5.2 rebounds.