Keith Zalaski '06
Photo by Thom Kendall
Senior Keith Zalaski (above) and the Amherst men's basketball class of 2006 have led the Jeffs to a school record 100 victories in their careers.

Fifth-Ranked, Top-Seeded Jeffs Set to Host NESCAC Tournament Semifinals, Championship

February 21, 2006

AMHERST, MA – The fifth-ranked and top-seeded Amherst College men’s basketball team sets its sights on its second straight New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship and fourth in the last six years when it hosts the conference tournament semifinals and championship game on Saturday and Sunday. Ticket prices are $5 for adults and $3 for students with valid ID. Children under 10 are free.

Semifinal play begins Saturday at 2 p.m. as the Lord Jeffs host fourth-seeded Bates College, while No. 2 seed Trinity College and third-seeded Tufts University are set to do battle at 4 p.m. The winners will face off for the NESCAC Championship Sunday at noon with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament at stake. All games will be live video and audio webcast at www.d3cast.com and will have radio webcast coverage courtesy of campus radio station WAMH. Tickets will be on sale at Bates, Tufts and Trinity during the week, and will go on sale at Amherst at noon on Saturday. Contact the appropriate athletic department for more information on ticket sales.

Amherst enters the weekend at 23-2 overall, riding a 13-game wining streak, including a lopsided 74-48 NESCAC First-Round victory over eighth-seeded Connecticut College last Saturday. Senior co-captain John Bedford did most of the damage, posting 17 points and eight boards, while junior Tim McLaughlin (Chatham, NJ) and sophomore Adolphe Coulibaly (Abidjan, Ivory Coast) came off the bench for 10 points and four rebounds apiece. McLaughlin continued his recent defensive prowess, snatching a game- and career-high five steals, all of which came in the first half. Bedford, junior forward Dan Wheeler (Bloomington, MN) and sophomore point guard Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) drive the Amherst machine; Bedford ranks in the conference elite in scoring (16.3 ppg), field goal % (.515), assists (2.6 apg), free throw % (.817), steals (1.64 spg) and three point % (.440), while Wheeler is red-hot as of late, averaging nearly 20 points per game and over 60% shooting over the last two weeks. One of the most exciting players in the conference to watch, Olson’s playmaking abilities constantly inspire spectators to rise to their feet and gasp in disbelief at what they just saw. His 5.4 assists per game rank fourth in the conference and 33rd in the nation, and he’s also among the conference leaders in field goal % (.491), three point % (.467) and assist/turnover ratio (2.23). Bedford, fellow-co-captain John Casnocha (San Francisco, CA) and classmates Keith Zalaski (Simsbury, CT) and Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) have led the Jeffs to a school-record 100 wins over four seasons, advancing to the national quarterfinals as rookies, the program’s first-ever NCAA Final Four appearance as sophomores and the NCAA round of 16 last season.  

Amherst is 14-2 all-time in NESCAC Tournament play, winning consecutive postseason championships in 2001 and 2002 before falling to archrival Williams College in both the 2003 and 2004 title games and then rebounding to claim the crown last season.

Bates (20-5/6-3 NESCAC) makes its third straight trip to the conference semifinals with a 67-51 opening-round victory over visiting No. 5 seed Bowdoin College. The Bobcats stormed back from a 34-24 halftime deficit with a 31-5 run in the second half to defeat the Polar Bears as Bates sophomore Brian Wholey (Marshfield, MA) poured in 22 points to lead the way. Junior Rob Stockwell (Temple, NH), who ranks eighth in the conference in scoring (15.8 ppg) and second in rebounding (10.7 rpg), notched a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards, while classmate Zak Ray (Bangor, ME) spread out eight points, five rebounds and five assists. Ray leads the NESCAC with 2.4 steals per game and is tied for second in assists with 5.56 helpers per game.

Trinity enters the conference semifinals at 18-5 (7-2 NESCAC) after a thrilling 84-81 quarterfinal win over upsetminded seventh-seed Colby College. Five different Bantams reached double figures, led by senior Tyler Rhoten (Ridgewood, NJ) and junior Kino Clarke (Brooklyn, NY), who tallied 18 points apiece. Rhoten added 12 boards, while junior point guard Pat Martin (Springfield, MA) chipped in 15 points and six assists and first-years Paul Rowe (Brooklyn, NY) and Aaron Westbrooks (Dublin, Ireland) each scored 12 points. Rhoten tops the NESCAC in scoring at 21.0 points per game.

Tufts (20-5/6-3 NESCAC) advanced to the NESCAC Final Four for the second straight season with Saturday’s 101-89 victory over sixth-seeded Williams College. The Jumbos had three players top the 20-point mark as sophomore Jake Weitzen (New York, NY) dropped 21 points, while juniors David Shepherd (Grantham, NH) and Brian Kumf (Milford, MA) tallied 20 points apiece. Senior Dan Martin (Sandwich, MA) paces Tufts and ranks fourth in the NESCAC with 17.5 points per game.

NESCAC Postseason Tournament Seedings
Quarterfinals – Saturday, February 18 at higher seeds
No. 8 Connecticut College 48 at No. 1 Amherst 74
No. 7 Colby 81 at No. 2 Trinity 84
No. 6 Williams 89 at No. 3 Tufts 101
No. 5 Bowdoin 51 at No. 4 Bates 67

Semifinals – Saturday, February 25 at Amherst College
No. 4 Bates at No. 1 Amherst (2 p.m.)
No. 3 Tufts vs. No. 2 Trinity (4 p.m.)

Championship – Sunday, February 26 at 12:00 p.m.
Semifinal winners