Photo by Charlie Quigg '09
Senior quad-captains (from left to right) Dan Wheeler, Mike Salerno, Tim McLaughlin and Dan O'Shea will hope to end their stellar careers with a national title.

Amherst to Face Wooster in National Semifinals

By Ben Kaplan '09

March 12, 2007

AMHERST, MA –The Amherst College men’s basketball team will travel to Salem, VA for its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III Final Four. Next up for the Jeffs is the College of Wooster (Wooster, OH), who will make its second-ever appearance in the national semifinals.

The Fighting Scots of Wooster overcame an 11-point halftime deficit against the State University of New York Brockport, then built a ten-point second-half cushion, only to see their lead disappear. After surviving a last-second shot, they dominated overtime and grabbed a 94-87 win, punching their ticket to Salem.

The Jeffs have shown the ability to outperform some of the toughest competition in the nation, beating Widener College, Stevens Institute of Technology and Rhode Island College en route to the national semifinals. Both junior Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) and senior quad-captain Dan Wheeler (Bloomington, MN) were named to the All-Sectional Team, with Olson picking up the Sectional MVP award for the second year in a row.

Before defeating Brockport, Wooster bested Transylvania University, Centre College, and John Carroll University in previous NCAA action, winning each game by at least ten points. Junior guard James Cooper and senior forward Tom Port were named to the All-Sectional Team, with Cooper collecting MVP honors. The Scots boast a 29-3 record (15-1 NCAC) and won their conference tournament for the first time since 2004.

The semifinal showdown will pit one of the nation’s top offenses against the Lord Jeffs’ stifling defense, which has allowed only 59.8 points per game (10th in the nation). The Scots, the sixth-highest scoring team in the country at 88.9 points per game, will provide the greatest challenge this year for the Jeffs. Amherst has shut down opponents by holding them to 38.0 percent shooting (7th lowest in the nation) while blocking 6.1 shots per game (3rd in the nation). 

The game will showcase two of the most efficient offenses, as both teams fall in the top five in field goal percentage, both connecting on over half their attempts (Wooster 52.3%, 2nd; Amherst 51.6%, 4th). Both teams also rank in the top 25 in three-point field goals made per game and three-point percentage. Wooster shoots 42.2% (4th) and makes 9.9 threes per game (13th), while Amherst connects on 41.6% from downtown (6th), sinking 9.1 per game (25th).

Amherst and Wooster could find themselves in unfamiliar territory if the game goes down to the wire, since they have spent most of the season dominating their opponents. The Jeffs lead the nation in scoring margin, winning games by an average of 21.6 points. Right behind Amherst is Wooster, triumphing by an average of 19.0 points.

The game will feature an intriguing guard match-up of two sectional MVPs. Leading the Wooster offense is James Cooper, who is coming off of a 34-point performance in the sectional finals. The six-foot junior guard, one of four Scots averaging double-figures, leads the team in scoring with 18.6 points per game. Sparking Amherst is junior point guard Andrew Olson, who averages 7.6 assists per game, which ranks third in the country.

In other sectional action, defending champion Virginia Wesleyan College continued its hopes of repeating by defeating Guilford College 81-71. Washington University-St. Louis, who eliminated overall number one seed Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the Sweet Sixteen, defeated Hope College 58-55 to reach the national semifinals.

Amherst (28-2) is looking for its first finals appearance in program history. Game time is set for 6 p.m. on Friday, Mar. 15 at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, VA, with the other semifinal at 8 p.m. The winners move on to Saturday’s final at 5 p.m., following the 2:30 p.m. consolation game.

The semifinal games and consolation game will be broadcast streaming online here, while the finals will be telecast live on CSTV.

Audio coverage for the Amherst semifinals game will be made available by the student radio station, WAMH.

To purchase tickets via phone using a credit card, call the Salem Box Office at 540-375-3004 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit this website.

Tickets will also be sold in the Amherst College Athletics Office Tuesday and Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets for adults are $20, and students with a valid ID will be charged $10.

Click here for a full tournament bracket.