Men’s hoops defeats Jeffs to win NESCAC

Men’s basketball (26-1, 8-1 in the NESCAC) may have finally exorcised the demon of LeFrak Gymnasium at Amherst, but that will not matter until 2004 as the Ephs will be playing at home for a while.

The Ephs, who had not won a game at Amherst since 1996, stormed onto Amherst’s home court on Saturday and defeated the Lord Jeffs, 74-70 to capture their first-ever NESCAC title. The win also gives Williams a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament and a home game on Saturday in the second round.

In all likelihood, if the Ephs win that game they will host the next two rounds of the tournament, meaning they will play all of their games up until the Final Four at home.

“We’re thrilled to be NESCAC champions and delighted to be back in the NCAA Tournament,” Head Coach Dave Paulsen said. “We’re happy to be playing at home, as well, as it will give our seniors a chance to play in front of our fans again.”

Of course, winning the NESCAC is enough of a prize in and of itself. Amherst had won the previous two NESCAC post-season tournaments; prior to the 2000-2001 season, there was no post-season tournament in the NESCAC.

“It’s such a great feeling,” Tim Folan ’03 said. “As a senior, to end NESCAC play with a win over Amherst is definitely some redemption over the past four years when we haven’t played our best against them.”

The win also gave Paulsen his first career victory in the land of the defectors. Paulsen’s lifetime record against the Lord Jeff’s now stands at 3-6, despite an astounding 69-14 overall career mark.

Amherst and Williams started the game off on Saturday trading baskets for the first 11 minutes of the game. With 8:19 left in the first half, Jaris Cole ’05 stole the ball from Amherst center Pat Fitzsimons and laid it in to start the Ephs on a 22-6 run that gave them control of the ballgame.

During the run, the Ephs rained treys from all over the court. Folan finished the half with three 3-pointers and Chuck Abba ’04 and Tucker Kain ’05 each drilled two. On the power of their touch from outside, the Ephs took a 15-point lead into the half, though it would have been an 18-point advantage had Adam Harper not hit a 3- pointer as time expired.

Amherst began to chip away at that lead from the start of the second half. First-year John Donovan nailed a jumper with 1:16 left in the game to bring the Lord Jeffs to within two points of the Ephs, 66-68.

As a sense of dread began to creep into the minds of the Eph faithful, however, Ben Coffin ’04 took over, as he has all season long. With 29 seconds left in the game, Coffin drained a fade away jumper to give the Ephs back their 4-point margin. Coffin would hit both of his free throws with seven seconds left in the game to ice the Eph victory.

“If he’s not the MVP of the conference, then that’s a travesty,” Paulsen said of Coffin. “Every big game we’ve had he’s been a monster.”

Overall, Coffin led the way for the Ephs putting up his usual double-double with 22, points and 10 rebounds. Folan and Abba both tossed in 12 points each. Mike Crotty ’04 was mortal all day long – scoring only eight points and dishing two assists while turning the ball over four times.

Zieja topped all scorers on the afternoon with 23 points. Adam Harper had a monster game with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Amherst’s normally dominating big man, Pat Fitzsimmons, stayed quiet, scoring merely eight points and gathering a paltry two rebounds.

The day before, the Ephs sneaked past the Tufts Jumbos, 64-63, to advance to the NESCAC final.

Coffin saved the day for the Ephs on Saturday, scoring an almost unheard of 31 points and netting 14 rebounds. Crotty was the only other Eph with double-figures in points (12) as the Ephs shot an abysmal 35 percent from the field. Crotty also had 10 assists in the effort, with most of them going to Coffin.

The Ephs will await the winner of the first-round match-up between Salem State and St. Joseph’s (Maine) to find out who they will play in the NCAA tournament on Saturday. Regardless, the Ephs’ game will start at 7 p.m. in Chandler Gymnasium.

In a decision that will certainly disappoint young Eph fans, the NCAA will not allow ThunderStix or any other artificial noisemakers into the gymnasium. Conference representatives will be present to confiscate any noisemakers, and stopping the game to remove violators has not been ruled out.

The NCAA will be charging $4 at the door for adults, $3 for students. Tickets will go on sale at 9 a.m. on Friday in Lasell lobby.

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