Reserve sophomore guard John Bedford is Amherst's third leading scorer and rebounder and one of the team’s top defenders.
Jeffs Headed to Salem, Virginia for First-Ever NCAA Division III Final Four Appearance
March 15, 2004
AMHERST, MA - With a decisive 82-70 win over NCAA sectional host Franklin & Marshall College in the national quarterfinals, the Amherst College men’s basketball team advanced to its first-ever NCAA Division III Final Four, where it’ll take on a familiar foe, NESCAC and Little Three rival Williams College, this Friday at 6 p.m. at the Salem (Va.) Civic Center. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and John Carroll University will meet in Friday’s other national semifinal (8 p.m.) with a berth in Saturday’s (4:36 p.m.) national championship game at stake. Friday’s semifinal losers will play a consolation game Saturday at 2 p.m.
Advance ticket packages are on sale Monday and Tuesday in the Amherst College athletic department. Ticket packages are $20 for adults and $10 for students during the advance sale and include one ticket for each day of competition. Tickets can also be purchased through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or through the Salem Civic Center - www.salemchampionships.com (540-375-3004).
Saturday’s championship game will be regionally televised on Fox Sports South or at the following satellite coordinates: KU Band, AMC09, Transponder 17, downlink frequency 12040 MHz (V). Amherst College student radio station WAMH (89.3 FM) will also webcast its audio play-by-play of both Amherst games live on the Internet (visit the Amherst Athletics Website - www.amherst.edu/sports - for details).
Amherst (27-3) is in the midst of its best season ever, shattering a single-season school record with 27 wins, including a 78-62 home victory over Williams on Jan. 10, which propelled the Jeffs to the top spot in the national rankings for the first time in school history. The loss turned out to be Williams’ only setback of the season, however, as the defending national champion Ephs (28-1) regained the No. 1 national ranking with an 84-80 overtime win over visiting Amherst on Jan. 24, and downed the Jeffs a second time, 79-67, on Feb. 29, as the host seed in the NESCAC Tournament Championship game.
Despite the two losses to its archrival, Amherst has had the most success of anybody against Williams in recent years, winning 10 of the last 16 meetings between the two teams overall and 10 of the last 11 at home. Amherst handed Williams its only defeat last season as well, pulling off a 67-61 upset over the then third-ranked and undefeated Ephs at LeFrak Gymnasium on Jan. 25, 2003. The last time they met on a neutral court - in the 2001-02 NESCAC Tournament semifinals - Amherst came away with a 69-92 victory.
The Jeffs and Ephs have met in NCAA Tournament play twice before. In 1996-97, Amherst beat visiting Colby, 83-60, in first round and fell at Williams, 86-63, in second round. In last year’s tournament, after earning a first-round bye, the Jeffs beat visiting Southern Vermont, 84-60, in the second round, downed Rochester, 74-68, in the round of 16 and fell at sectional host Williams, 91-75, in the national quarterfinals.
This season, Amherst earned an at-large bid and a first-round bye in its fifth straight NCAA Tournament, blasting visiting Plymouth State 113-85 in the second round and downing New Jersey City 92-74 in the round of 16 before surviving a close call against Franklin & Marshall in the national quarterfinals. The Jeffs have been dominant in their three tournament games, leading the entire tournament field in both scoring offense (95.7 ppg) and scoring margin (+19.3 ppg).
Ironically, in many people’s minds, this was supposed to be a down year for Amherst, which graduated its all-time leading scorer, Steve Zieja, it’s career assists leader, Ryan Faulkner, and the college’s career record holder in blocked shots and field goal percentage, Pat Fitzsimons.
“Because of the players we graduated last year, this is a team that nobody, except us, would’ve expected to be in this position,” says 27th-year head coach Dave Hixon ’75, the 14th winningest active Division III coach in the nation and the 25th winningest coach in NCAA Division III history. “Our current seniors have shown great will to win down the stretch and now in the NCAA Tournament. They’re a terrific bunch of kids who’ve worked incredibly hard and believed in themselves to get where they are.”
Amherst is led by First-Team All-NESCAC senior guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC), who was named the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season after leading the conference in steals for the third straight year. Harper is Amherst’s all-time steals leader with 317 (and counting). He’s also just two steals shy of the college’s single-season record of 103, held by Keith Poopor ’96, and is Amherst’s 11th all-time leading scorer with 1,185 career points. His counterpart in the backcourt is fellow senior tri-captain John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ). Donovan, the Jeffs’ top long-range threat with 66 three-pointers, averages 12.1 point per game overall but has ballooned his scoring average to a robust 20.3 points per game in Amherst’s three NCAA Tournament victories. Another senior, tri-captain forward Tim Jones (Richmond, VA), provides a potent low-post scoring threat. Jones leads the NESCAC with a whopping .650 field goal percentage and, at 10.5 points per game, is one of five Amherst players averaging in double-figures scoring. He’s also Amherst’s leading rebounder at 5.7 boards per game. Juniors Andrew Schiel (Wayne, PA) and Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) round out the starting five. Schiel, a Second-Team All-NESCAC forward, is Amherst’s leading scorer (13.7 ppg) and second leading rebounder (5.6 rpg) and leads the Jeffs and the NESCAC with 50 blocks. Corrigan runs the show at point guard, dishing out a league third-best 4.5 assists on a nightly basis. One of Amherst’s greatest assets, however, is the strength of its reserves. Sophomore guard John Bedford (Ridgewood, NJ) heads the list as the Jeffs’ third leading scorer (12.1 ppg) and rebounder (4.9 rpg) and one of the team’s top defenders. Junior point guard Russell Lee (Lorton, VA) has been similarly impressive off the bench, as witnessed by his 27-point outburst in Amherst’s 87-78 win over then 15th-ranked Trinity College in the NESCAC Tournament semifinals. Junior slasher John Casnocha (San Francisco, CA), one of the conference’s top three-point threats early on, has missed most of the second half of the season due to injury but may yet return. Look for rookies Dan Wheeler (Bloomington, MN), Dan O’Shea (Lawrence, MA) and Tim McLaughlin (Chatham, NJ) to contribute as well.
The Jeffs are making their seventh overall and fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, advancing to the national quarterfinals in 1994, 2003, the NCAA round of 16 in 2002 and the NCAA second round in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Amherst is 11-6 all-time in NCAA Tournament play.
For more information on this weekend's NCAA Final Four visit www.odaconline.com/hoopchamp/.
AMHERST IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: Seventh appearance / 11-6 all-time (6-0 home, 5-6 road)
- 1993-94 (Qualified for the NCAA Tournament in its first year of eligibility… drew first-round bye… won at Colby in second round… beat the No. 1 team in the nation, Franklin & Marshall College, which entered the game with only one loss, in the Round of 16… Fell to eventual national champion Lebanon Valley in the national quarterfinals)
- 1996-97 (Beat visiting Colby, 83-60, in first round… fell at Williams, 86-63, in second round)
- 1999-00 (Beat visiting WNEC, 79-77, in first round… fell at Salem State, 81-75, in second round)
- 2000-01 (Beat visiting St. John Fisher, 89-76, in first round… fell at Clark, 89-76, in second round)
- 2001-02 (First-round bye… beat visiting Western Connecticut State, 82-77, in second round… fell at SUNY Brockport, 69-64, in Round of 16)
- 2002-03 (First-round bye… beat visiting Southern Vermont, 84-60, in second round… beat Rochester, 74-68, in Round of 16… fell at Sectional host Williams, 91-75, in National Quarterfinals)
- 2003-04 (First-round bye… beat visiting Plymouth State, 113-85, in second round… beat New Jersey City, 92-74, in Round of 16... beat Sectional host Franklin & Marshall, 82-70, in national quarterfinals...)