Men’s hoops finishes NCAA run in nat’l final

On March 20, men’s basketball (30-2) saw its season end in the NCAA Div. III Championship title game, falling 78-73 to UW-Stevens Point in Salem, Va. Thirty wins, no NESCAC losses and a whole host of individual honors speak to the men’s unquestionable success on the court, while anyone who attended a game in Chandler Gymnasium this season understands how much excitement for the sport the team inspired in the fans.

Emotions and adrenaline ran high as Williams stepped onto the court at Salem Civic Center March 20 to face off against Stevens for the national title game. The Pointers immediately proved themselves as stiff competition for the Ephs: The first half saw three ties and two lead changes, and the teams were so evenly matched that neither was able to pull ahead by more than six. The men held a slim 32-30 lead at the half after outshooting their opponents 54.2 percent to 44.4 percent from the field.

After Stevens tied the game up at 36-36, Williams rallied to pull ahead by 10, 54-44, at the 11:02 minute mark. However, victory was not in hand, as Stevens outscored the Ephs 34-19 the rest of the way to claim the NCAA title. Co-captain Blake Schultz ’10 closed out his collegiate career with 20 points on the game, with Troy Whittington ’11 and James Wang ’12 contributing 19 and 17 points, respectively.

Head Coach Mike Maker spoke for his team and the Williams community in explaining his feelings regarding the men’s play. “I thought we played wonderful basketball the entire season and in particular down in Salem,” the NESCAC Coach of the Year and Basketball Times Co-Coach of the Year said. “It certainly was a painful ending to a great season. We had a 10-point lead with 11 minutes to play, but [basketball] is a 40-minute game.”

The men had to go through Guilford on March 19 to reach the national final. Facing a 43-35 deficit at halftime, the men shot 70.4 percent in the second half to score 62 points and pull ahead for the win. Schultz led the team, as he has for much of the season, posting 25 points and going 8 for 14 from the field. Wang and Alex Rubin ’10 were just behind with 19 and 18 points, respectively, while Nate Robertson ’13 and Whittington rounded out the Ephs’ double-digit scoring with 14 and 11 points.

“I was so proud,” Maker said when asked about Williams’ fight to regain control of the Guilford game. “[We] scored 62 points in the second half just to get to the [championship] game.”

Maker was quick to emphasize the team’s success over the year as a whole and refused to dwell on the disappointment of the final game. “I thought we had a magical season, without question,” he said. “Our players gave everything they had … I was [obviously] disappointed that we couldn’t bring a national championship home, but I was proud of the way our program represented our community and Williams as an institution. The way we went about our business and how special our kids are made all the difference.”

Schultz agreed with Maker’s optimistic view of the season. “Looking back now, it’s obvious how great of a season it was, how much fun we had and what a great oppotunity it was to go the Final Four,” Schultz said. “We had a great time just experiencing all of that. It was a great year and definitely the best that anyone on the team now has ever had here.” Schultz cited hosting the NESCAC Tournament and the overwhelming fan support as especially memorable parts of the season. The senior co-captain, who averaged 19.2 points per game this year, earned First-Team honors from the NESCAC, State Farm Coache and ECAC this season; he was also named NESCAC Player of the year, ECAC New England Player of the Year, and D3Hoops Northeast Region Player of the Year.

While Williams will graduate seven seniors in the spring, including Schultz, Rubin and co-captain Joe Geoghegan ’10, the team is not worried about stagnating with the loss of these leaders: Maker expects the underclassmen to rise to the challenge next season.

“This year’s senior class collectively has left a wonderful legacy,” Maker said. He wasn’t worried that the loss of this year’s graduating class would cripple next year’s squad, however: “I am very confident that next year’s team will build on what made this year’s team so special,” he explained.

Next year’s team will be led by 2010-11 tri-captains Whittington, Wang and Harlan Dodson ’11, and will be fleshed out by a number of other standout underclassmen. Whittington was named to the Second All-NESCAC team this season, while Geoghegan was honored with a spot in the NABC Div. III Senior All-Star game and Wang claimed All-Northeast Region First Team, All-NESCAC First Team and D3Hoops Fourth Team All-American honors.

“It’s not the fact that we had success as a basketball team, but [rather] the type of young men [the players] are,” Maker added as a final comment on the team’s success and his certainty that the Ephs’ dominance will continue next season. “I am confident that our group next year will do very well in putting a team on the floor that everybody at Williams can be proud of.” The 12 Ephs that will return next season, having gotten more than a taste of success, will certainly be focused on replicating this spectacular season next year.