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Eph fans invade the court in jubilation on Saturday as the team clinches a spot in the Final Four.

Ephs Down Brandeis for Spot in Final Four

By Ryan HolmesiBerkshires Sports
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Photos by Paul Guillotte
A player gets his bite of the basket after Williams overcame Brandeis in the NCAA semifinals.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – With a trip to the NCAA Division III Final Four on the line, the Williams men's basketball team had its choice of three closers to turn to late in Saturday's Elite 8 game against Brandeis.

The Judges, meanwhile, couldn't find a player to make the big shots in the clutch and faded in the end, outscored 16-3 in the last four minutes of the game en route to a 71-57 loss.

Things started out all so promising for Brandeis (22-7), which used its team quickness to get to the basket and open as much as a nine-point lead midway through the first half. The Ephs (29-1), who have now won a school-record 20 straight games, rallied back to go up by three heading into halftime but couldn't shake the Judges loose until late in the game.

After an offensive rebound and putback by Brandeis center Terrell Hollins (nine points, 13 rebounds) cut the Ephs' lead to 53-52, Williams point guard James Wang started the 16-3 run by scoring consecutive baskets in the paint. Wang looked a little wild in the first half, making just four of 13 shots in the frame, but he came up big when it mattered the most. With the floor spread out, Wang beat his man off the dribble for two straight buckets, the last of which he made while being fouled. Wang swished the free throw to put his team up by four. He finished the game with 18 points and four rebounds.

Wang's performance was second only to senior forward Blake Schultz, who proved why he was worthy of winning the prestigious Jostens Trophy by scoring a game-high 29 points to go along with seven rebounds. Schultz found out earlier in the week that he won the Jostens Trophy, given annually to a well-rounded Div. 3 student-athlete and which recognizes playing ability, academic performance and community service.

Schultz kept the run going by draining a jumper from the left elbow and sinking a pair of foul shots to put the hosts up by nine. His performance was fitting of the NESCAC Player of the Year, who went eight of 13 from the field and a perfect 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. Schultz got his team back in the game in the first half, scoring seven straight points to erase an eight-point Brandeis lead at the time. He then took over the offense in the second half, scoring 17 of his 29 points after the break.

Any chance the Judges had of making a comeback were erased by junior forward Troy Whittington, the last of the Ephs' three closers. With his team up by five, Whittington came up with one of his game-high four blocks on Hollins, which led to Schultz's trip to the foul line. He then grabbed one of his team-high 10 rebounds on the other end and scored on a putback to put his team up by 11 with just under two minutes left in the game. Whittington, a crowd favorite for his sky-high rebounds and game-changing blocks, scored nine of his 14 points and grabbed seven of his 10 rebounds in the second half.

"Our toughness and our competitive spirit surfaced [tonight]," Williams head coach Mike Maker said. "It helps when you have really good players, and both Blake and Troy are just difference makers. They both can make plays in space one on one. They can both get their own shot and they guard on the other end, and James Wang can get by his man. You combine that with our team chemistry and the guys that we have that can make perimeter shots that allow them to play in space, then we’re really difficult.

"But I think the reason why we cut the nets down today has less to do with our talent and everything to do with the character of our kids."

Maker's squad now advances to Friday's Final Four matchup against Guilford in Salem, Va. Randolph-Macon and University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point make up the other semifinal game, with the Division III Championship scheduled for Saturday. It's the first time the Ephs have made it to the Final Four since losing in the '04 final.

There was a moment midway through the first half when it seemed like Brandeis would be cutting down the nets instead of Williams. Unlike Friday's Sweet 16 tilt against SUNY-IT when the Ephs shot 63 percent from the 3-point line, the Judges consistently defended behind the arc, holding Williams to just 38.5 shooting from long distance. Senior guard Alex Rubin sank seven threes for 21 points on Friday night, only to go scoreless against Brandeis the following day.

"They made it very difficult for us to run our offense and to get the looks," Maker said. "They ran us off the 3-point line, and they were well prepared. Their quickness and toughness bothered us on the 3-point line, so we had to drive the ball and throw it inside. We had to win it with toughness and determination and spirit."

While the Judges' quickness bothered the Ephs on the offensive end, it also created problems for them defensively. Speedy guards Tyrone Hughes (eight points, two rebounds) and Andre Roberson (14 points, nine rebounds, three assists) got to the basket with ease early on as Brandeis jumped out to a 21-12 lead. Maker then tighten things up on defense, however, and all of the Williams players did a better job of keeping their man in front of them. Schultz then got the offense going, helping the Ephs outscore their opponents 23-11 the rest of the half.

The Judges stayed neck and neck with the hosts the rest of the way until they finally ran out of gas in the final four minutes of the game. A short bench playing on back-to-back nights finally caught up with Brandeis, as did the overall talent and depth of the Williams’ roster.

"We hung in there after a tough game last night, and it was a really, really good team that we had to go up against tonight," Judges head coach Brian Meehan said. "I thought our guys played as well as possible, and we got to the Elite 8 essentially with six guys. I thought we did a great job of taking them out of what they wanted to do but coming down the stretch, they kept throwing guys in there and I think it hurt us on the boards more than anywhere else."

Those factors in addition to a raucous, packed Chandler Gymnasium gave the Ephs the little extra edge they needed down the stretch. Williams went 26-1 during the regular season to ensure they got three home games in the tournament, and the student section certainly paid them back by bringing their A-game on Saturday night.

"I'm great friends with a lot of the people that had the 6th Man [T-shirts] on in the crowd, so it felt really good to get the support from my peers around campus," Whittington said. "It was amazing, especially because all year we've being doing well. Our crowds have obviously gotten bigger as the season has gone on. But in the beginning of the season we knew we were good and we should get really big crowds.

"It feels good to see the expectations match our contributions."

Williams Sports Info story and box score links here.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Division III Final Four Tickets on Sale at Williams

Two-day packages for the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball National Semifinals and Finals to be played in Salem, VA Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20 will be on sale at Williams Tuesday and Wednesday in the Lasell Gym Lobby (Spring St. entrance).

National Semifinals -- March 19:

5:00 PM -- Williams vs. Guilford
7:00 PM -- Randolph Macon vs. Wisconsin - Stevens Point

National Championship Game March 20:

1:00 PM -- Friday's winners

Ticket Sale Hours:

Tuesday:  9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Wednesday:  9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Two-Day Ticket Prices:

Adults:  $25.00
Students:  $12.50

Fans unable to make the sale times offered at Williams can contact the Salem Civic Center directly to purchase their tickets.

Salem Civic Center

Phone:  540-375-3004

Web Address:  www.salemciviccenter.com

The two semifinals will be video webcast by the NCAA with audio provided by D3hoops.com. Both broadcasts will be free to all viewers.

The NCAA Division III National Championship Game will be televised live by CBS College Sports Network. Check your local listings for channel availability.

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