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John Donovan '04
Senior sharpshooter John Donovan has been a key figure in the Jeffs' rise to national prominence, leading the team in three-pointers and free throw percentage.

Undefeated Jeffs Assume Top Spot in National Rankings

January 20, 2004

AMHERST, MA - The Amherst College men’s basketball team rose to No. 1 in the latest D3hoops.com national rankings, which were released Tuesday morning. At 13-0 entering tonight’s non-league matchup at Elms College, the Jeffs have equaled their best-ever start and are just two wins shy of their longest-ever winning streak. This is the first time an Amherst men’s team has risen to the top spot in the national rankings in any sport.

“It’s a midseason mark, not a preseason mark, so there is some significance to it,” says head coach Dave Hixon, in his 27th season at Amherst, “but we’d prefer to be No. 1 a month from now. Our kids certainly have a lot to be proud of. It’s a real credit to them in light of the fact that most people felt we’d be down this year, graduating three prominent players as we did.”

The three players Hixon refers to are Steve Zieja, the college's all-time leading scorer; Ryan Faulkner, the school’s all-time assists leader; and Pat Fitzsimons, Amherst’s career leader in field goal percentage and blocked shots. The trio led Amherst to a school-record 87 wins over four seasons, including back-to-back NESCAC Championships in 2000-01 and 2001-02, a trip to the NESCAC Championship game in 2002-03 and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including last season's trip to the NCAA Quarterfinals.

One of just four undefeated teams in NCAA Division III, the 2003-04 Lord Jeffs have been dominant. As of the latest NCAA statistical rankings, Amherst led the nation in scoring margin (30.4 ppg) and won-lost percentage (100.0%), was fourth in scoring offense (88.2 ppg) and field goal percentage (81.8%), ninth in scoring defense (57.8 ppg), 11th in field goal percentage defense (37.4%) and 21st in three-point field goals per game (9.2).

A trio of seniors - guards Adam Harper (Washington, DC) and John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) and forward Tim Jones (Richmond, VA) - have led the way. The 2002-03 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, Harper has a conference-best 55 steals, upping his career total to 271, just 12 shy of the college's career record of 283, held by Keith Poopor '96. He’s also the 20th leading scorer in Amherst history with 949 career points. Meanwhile, Donovan leads the Jeffs in three-pointers (24) and free throw percentage (88.2%), while Jones tops the NESCAC in field goal percentage (67.1%) and is the Jeffs’ leading rebounder (5.5 rpg).

Juniors Andrew Schiel (Wayne, PA) and Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) round out the starting five. Schiel, a 6-7 forward, has been one of the most dominant players in the NESCAC, leading the conference in blocks (33) and ranking fifth in scoring (15.3 ppg), eighth in field goal percentage (53.9%) and ninth in free throw percentage (79.4%). He earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors on Monday, Dec. 9, averaging 19.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 blocks and shooting a blistering 9-for-15 from three-point range in a trio of road wins at Clark University, Western New England and Springfield College.

Despite his diminutive stature, Corrigan, a 6-0 point guard, is second in the NESCAC in field goal percentage (62.9%). He’s also third in the conference with 82 assists.

One of Amherst’s greatest assets is its deep and talented bench, highlighted by sophomore guard John Bedford (Ridgewood, NJ) - the Jeffs’ third leading scorer at 10.7 points per game - and classmate John Casnocha (San Francisco, CA), a 6-6 swingman who averages 8.3 points and is the second leading three-point shooter in the NESCAC. Junior point guard Russell Lee (Lorton, VA) also sees plenty of action off the bench.

Amherst has had several big wins this season, including an 81-66 victory at then 21st-ranked Clark University on Dec. 2, and a recent 78-62 home win over defending national champion Williams College, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 28-game winning streak in tow. Amherst is set to lock horns with Williams, now ranked third nationally, again this Saturday at 4 p.m. in Williamstown, Mass.