Men’s hoops leaves Salem as National Champs

The night before the Div. III basketball Final Four, at a banquet held to honor the remaining teams, an NCAA representative noted that “363 Div. III teams began practice on Oct. 15 with the goal of getting to Salem and you are the only four who made it.”

Due to NESCAC restrictions, men’s basketball (31-1) started its season two weeks later than that date; by the end of the season, however, they were the only team left standing.

In thrilling fashion, the Ephs downed Gustavus Adolphus (26-7) on March 22 in the final game of the NCAA tournament to finish a magical season as national champions. The 67-65 victory came on the shoulders of tri-captain Tim Folan ’03, who after a sluggish start erupted for nine of the Ephs’ final 12 points of the game and intercepted the Gusties’ last second desperation pass sealing the victory for the Ephs. After being fouled with two seconds left in the game, Folan converted both free throws to give the Ephs their winning margin.

“I’m just thankful that my coaches and my teammates had enough confidence in me to put me in at crunch time and get me the ball so I could make some shots,” Folan said. “I did not have a good first half in either of these two games here, but I stuck with it and my teammates battled with me and we got it done and it is just an unbelievable feeling.”

It was not the Ephs’ prettiest victory – they shot 37 percent from the field and led for merely 19 seconds in the second half – but Eph fans need travel no further than the offices in Chandler Gym to see the 2003 national championship trophy in all its aesthetic beauty.

Gustavus Adolphus led 63-56 with 3:16 left in the game when the Ephmen began their comeback. Four points by Folan and a free throw by Ben Coffin ’04, the eventual tournament Most Outstanding Player, pulled the Ephs to within two points.

With 0:48 left on the clock, Folan nailed a 3-pointer to give the Ephs their first lead of the second half at 64-63. Gustie Derek Nelson gave the lead back to his team 16 seconds later; hitting a basket in the paint. The Ephs would hold the ball for a final shot and Coffin was ultimately sent to the free throw line with four seconds remaining.

The 6’7” forward converted his first free throw to knot the score at 64. His second attempt would not fall, but Folan came up with the offensive board and was sent to the free throw line with just over two seconds remaining.

“I saw that Ben’s shot was short so I just went for it hard,” Folan said. “There were two Gustavus guys coming at me and I just wanted to get by them and get off a shot.”

After hitting the first and shaking off a Gusties’ time-out to sink the second, Folan picked off their last second cross-court pass to assure the Ephs’ place atop the nation.

Tim Brown led the way for Gustavus Adolphus, scoring a game-high 19 points. Doug Espinson threw in 13 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort.

Folan paced the Ephs with 15 points; Coffin had 11 points and eight rebounds. Point guard Mike Crotty had 12 assists on the night to only two turnovers. Indeed, the Ephs only turned the ball over four times on the night, while forcing the Gusties to cough it up 17 times.

Both Crotty and Coffin were named to the All-Tournament team.

“My kids have tremendous heart and character,” Head Coach Dave Paulsen ’87 said. “It’s been an absolute thrill to coach them and to see them come out of here with two wins when they did not play well and quite frankly, struggled.”

Paulsen’s contribution wouldn’t go unnoticed, however, as he’s been named Div. III Coach of the Year by Molton/DIII News and also by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. In his three years at Williams, Paulsen has compiled a record of 74-14 and led the Ephs to postseason play each season.

“Coach Paulsen is the type of coach players want to play for because he is so into the game,” Folan said. “Everyone can see his passion for the game while the game is being played, but his passion is even greater in practice. He really enjoys helping his players grow and get better.”

The Ephs will lose four seniors to graduation, including starting center Drew DeMuth ’03 and Folan. Sumant Bhat ’03 and John Fitzgerald ’03, whose contribution to the team is greater than their minutes might suggest, will also not be on the 2003-04 team.

The team will, however, return a core of starters in Crotty, Coffin, Chuck Abba ’04 and Jaris Cole ’05 as well as highly capable players in Michael Graham ’05, Tucker Kain ’05, Andy Campbell ’05 and Andrew Newton ’06.