Men’s hoops downs Salem, Sweet 16 next

March madness hits Williamstown this weekend as Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the NCAA Div. III men’s basketball tournament will be held in Chandler Gymnasium.

To get to this point, the Ephs (27-1) downed a Salem St. team that played admirably in the first half, but couldn’t keep up that level of play in the second, leading to a 94-67 victory for the Ephmen.

Williams will host Hamilton (23-5) at 8 p.m. on Friday night. Though the Ephs defeated Hamilton earlier this year 74-54, the Continentals have caught fire in recent weeks and are currently riding an 8-game win streak. Hamilton defeated St. John Fisher College 72-68 last weekend in the final 10-seconds of the game.

It will be especially important not to look past the Continentals as they squeaked by this same Eph team last year, 79-76, though that game was played at Hamilton.

“Every game from here on out could be our last game,” tri-captain Tim Folan ’03 said. “We beat them earlier this year, but they’ll be pumped up and are going to try and come in and beat us.”

One x-factor in the game will be Hamilton guard Greg Leone, who was academically ineligible to play in the fall. Perhaps as a result, Leone turned in a sub-par performance in the two teams’ first meeting. Recently, however, Leone has stepped up his game, averaging more than 21 points per game over Hamilton’s last four contests, including five 3-pointers in each effort.

The presence of Leone rounds out a strong Hamilton starting five from the point to center. Indeed, the Continental lineup looks awfully similar to the Ephs’, both inside and on the perimeter.

“If you matched up one of our guys against theirs, they’d look very similar – [Joe] Finley looks a lot like [Drew] DeMuth [’03,] [Joe] Smith like [Ben] Coffin [’04,] all the way down the roster,” Head Coach Dave Paulsen said. “These are very comparable teams if you match up this guy against that one.”

In the 6 p.m. Friday game, Amherst (23-4) will face Rochester (23-3). Div. III hoops enthusiasts are looking forward to this game as it pits two extremely talented teams against each other in what promises to be a scintillating match-up. Rochester has returned all five starters from a team that went all the way to the Final Four last year.

The winners of the two games will face off at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

Paulsen refused to discuss potential opponents from that game, saying he’d be happy to play either, as it would mean the Ephs had beaten Hamilton. The Ephs have played well against Amherst in their last two games in the land of the defectors, and defeated the Jeffs at Chandler in January.

In Saturday’s game against Salem St., the Ephs were led by a dominant performance by center DeMuth. DeMuth threw down 24 points and hauled in seven rebounds in the effort.

Though the Ephs led by nine after the first half, the two teams were deadlocked on the glass at 16 boards a piece, and it looked like the quick, slashing Vikings might be able to keep pace with the Ephs.

In the second half, however, Salem St. was unable to move the ball around as quickly and the Eph inside-defense tightened up as a result.

“I was not happy being even with them in rebounding at halftime,” Paulsen said. “But after we adjusted to their slashing and closed the gaps, things came a little easier.”

Folan had 15 points in only 15 minutes of court time on the night. Mike Crotty ’04 had 11 points and eight assists, while Ben Coffin ’04 had a relatively quiet night scoring nine points and collecting 10 boards.

Salem St. Head Coach Brian Mieham said the Ephs’ size – particularly from DeMuth and Coffin – wore his team down in the second half. He did, however, take at least a little credit for his college for DeMuth’s emergence.

“DeMuth was tutored by Jimmy Todd, who is a former Salem St. coach. . .my ex-best friend, Jimmy Todd,” Mieham said jokingly.

Ryan Conner and Bobby Michaelczyk each had 15 points for the Vikings, who were abysmal from the charity stripe all night long, shooting only 16-of-28 on their free throws.

Tickets for the weekends’ games will go on sale this Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Only half of the tickets (about 750) will be available for Williams fans, as the NCAA requires the other half be split between fans of the other clubs.

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