Senior guard Adam Harper scored a game-high 26 points, including a spectacular steal and tomahawk dunk early in the second half.
Jeffs Fall to Williams in National Semifinals
March 19, 2004
SALEM, VA - It was a valiant effort for sure, but the Amherst College men’s basketball team fell just short in its first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III Final Four on Friday night, dropping its national semifinal matchup to an all too familiar opponent, archrival Williams College, 86-81, at the Salem (Va.) Civic Center. Despite the loss, the Jeffs (27-4) will play one more game - a consolation against the loser of Friday night’s second national semifinal between John Carroll and Wisconsin-Stevens Point - Saturday at 2 p.m.
“Our guys played a great game tonight,” said Amherst head coach Dave Hixon during the postgame press conference. “They’re (Williams) the defending national champions and they did a lot of things right, but I’m really proud of our guys and the way they fought.”
Facing Williams (30-1) for the fourth time this season, Amherst played spectacularly in the opening minutes, draining seven of its first eight shots, including three-pointers by seniors John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) and Adam Harper (Washington, DC) and junior Andrew Schiel (Wayne, PA), en route to an early 19-12 lead. But Williams chipped away and eventually knotted the score 33-33 on a Chuck Abba (Delmar, NY) putback off a Casey Gibbons (Weston, MA) miss, and the Ephs’ good fortune on the offensive glass would be a recurring theme throughout the night. Williams closed the half with a 10-4 run for a 43-39 lead at the break, capping the flurry with yet another offensive putback, this time by junior guard Jaris Cole (East Point, GA), who followed his own missed jumper with 1:09 remaining.
Amherst managed to regroup at halftime and powered back in front on the strength of a pair of otherworldly second-half performances by Harper and reserve junior playmaker Russell Lee (Lorton, VA). After junior Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) opened the half with a floater in the lane, Harper, the two-time NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, scored 10 consecutive points for Amherst, including a spectacular steal and tomahawk dunk that brought the Jeffs within one, 52-51, with 16:09 remaining. Lee then took over with an NBA three-pointer and a pair of brilliant whirling left-handed runners, the second of which put the Jeffs ahead, 58-56, for the first time since the 3:16 mark in the first half. Amherst sophomore John Bedford (Ridgewood, NJ) tacked on a mid-range jumper and a layup off an inbounds play, followed by a transition bucket by Harper, and the Jeffs claimed what would be their largest lead of the second half, 64-58, with 10:40 to go.
Williams answered right back with a three-point play by Michael Crotty (Belmont, MA) and yet another follow by Abba to knot the score 64-64, but Amherst would return the favor time and time again, answering bucket after bucket to tie the score four more times over the next six minutes. Lee drained his second three of the game for a 69-69 deadlock, Harper canned a stumbling runner and a pair of 1-and-1 charity tosses to tie the score at 73 and again at 75, and Bedford hit two more free throws for a 77-77 stalemate with 2:49 on the clock.
But it was all Williams down the stretch as Cole followed a Crotty airball for a 79-77 lead, and Crotty sank a foul line jumper for an 81-77 Eph cushion at the one-minute mark. Amherst cut the lead to two twice more in the in the final minute, courtesy of a Lee floater and a pair of Bedford free throws, but the Ephs shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line over the final 25 seconds to ice their second consecutive trip to the national title game.
Harper led all scorers with 25 points and paced the Jeffs with seven rebounds. He also had one steal, leaving him just one shy of the college’s single-season record of 103, held by Keith Poopor ’96. Lee chipped in with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting off the bench, and Bedford and Donovan rounded out Jeffs in double figures with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Williams placed five players in double figures, led by Crotty’s 21 points and senior forward Ben Coffin’s (Westford, MA) 20 points and game-high nine boards. The Ephs outrebounded Amherst 40-34, including a 17-9 advantage on the offensive glass, and tallied 13 more field goal attempts than the Jeffs, thanks in large part to 15 second-chance points, nine in the second half.
“I tip my hat to Amherst,” said Williams head coach Dave Paulsen. “Hopefully people on a national level can see how intense this rivalry is. Their seniors played a great game, and our guys battled and competed when we were on the ropes. We made some stops down the stretch, made free throws and only turned it over five times.”
Nevertheless, Amherst has much to be proud of in advancing to the national semifinals for the first time in school history - a fitting tribute to its four seniors, Harper, Donovan, Tim Jones (Richmond, VA) and Don Quinn (Princeton, NJ), who advanced to the NCAA round of 32 as freshman, the round of 16 as sophomores, the Elite Eight as juniors and the Final Four in this, their final collegiate season.
Williams is 61-2 over the past two seasons, with both losses coming against Amherst.