National Champs!
Issue   |   Tue, 04/09/2013 - 21:40
Rob Mattson, Public Affairs Office
With an 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Jeffs completed the ultimate dream season.

The Jeffs are National Champs!

Behind a double-double from Willy Workman ’13 and a team-high 18 points from Allen Williamson ’13, the Amherst Men’s Basketball team earned the Division III NCAA title with an 87-70 victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sunday.

Playing at Phillips Area in downtown Atlanta, GA, the Jeffs led wire-to-wire and coasted to their 24th consecutive victory, setting a new school record for the longest single-season winning streak. Finishing the year 30-2, the team also equaled the program’s best single-season record set by the 2006-2007 squad. That team also won the national title, marking Sunday’s victory as the second NCAA championship in the history of the program.

Amherst’s opponent in the finals, UMHB, was the Cinderella story of the tournament. Unranked coming into the tourney, the Crusaders pulled off incredible upsets of both No. 6 Whitworth and top-ranked St. Thomas en route to the finals. In a season filled with adversity, including the loss of two big men early on, UMHB far exceeded all expectations and turned a lot of heads in getting as far as they did. Unfortunately for them, Amherst was simply too good on this day.

Playing in front of over 6,000 fans, neither team had ever experienced so big a stage. However, any Amherst concerns about the limelight were quickly forgotten, as the Jeffs got out of the gates quickly. Sparked by an Aaron Toomey ’14 three, Amherst began the game on a 10-0 run to take an early lead. Clamping down on the defensive end, the Jeffs forced the Crusaders into missing their first six shots from the field, before Kitrick Bell ’14 finally put back his own miss to get UMHB on the board.

Staked to the early double-digit advantage, Amherst kept the Crusaders at bay through the rest of the half. UMHB got within five points, but were never able to creep any closer. The senior duo of Williamson and Workman made sure of that, coming up with big baskets whenever the momentum seemed to be moving back in the Crusaders favor. In fact, Williamson’s biggest shot of the half was a putback of a Workman miss, breaking a four-minute Amherst scoring drought and putting an end to a 7-0 Crusaders run.

Closing the half with a three from Tom Killian ’14, the Jeffs maintained a 38-30 advantage heading into the intermission. However, having come back from a 14-point deficit in their previous game, the Crusaders were certainly not going to go down without a fight.

UMHB began the second half on a small run, immediately cutting the Jeffs’ lead to four points. Workman responded by connecting on two consecutive jumpers, but that cushion would not last. The Crusaders came right back with two buckets of their own, bringing the score to 43-39.

Amherst, though, was able to remain calm even in the face of mounting pressure. This time, it was Toomey who had the answer, connecting on a deep three to cap a fast-break. The possession was made all the more dramatic, as a number of stadium lights went off during play, causing confusion and an ensuing media timeout. The break, though, did not faze the Jeffs, who were just catching fire.

Williamson spurred the Amherst effort, making his presence felt on both sides of the court. The senior, who earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor, came up with a big block on a Crusaders’ layup attempt and finished the same possession by converting a layup on the Jeffs’ end. Two plays later, he came up with the highlight of the night, wrestling away an offensive rebound away from a UMHB defender before slamming home a one-handed tomahawk dunk. The bucket gave Amherst a nine-point advantage and sparked an 8-2 Jeffs’ spurt.

The Crusaders, to their credit, continued to hang around. Thomas Orr ’13, who finished with a game-high 24 points, kept UMHB within striking distance, cutting the deficit to ten points on multiple occasions. However, the Crusaders simply did not have a defensive answer for either Williamson or Toomey and that proved to be their downfall. The duo combined for 17 points in the final six minutes, keeping the Crusaders at bay and effectively icing the game. Behind their effort, the Jeffs’ lead ballooned to as many as 19 in the final minutes, allowing Amherst to coast to victory.

With the win, Amherst put the final touches on what has been one of the most impressive seasons in program history. The seniors, Peter Kaasila, Workman and Williamson, will certainly be missed, but were able to end their collegiate careers on the highest of highs. Workman, afterwards, was emotional explaining how much the victory meant.

"When you're a little kid out in the driveway, you dream of hitting a big shot and you think about the NBA. But this is as close as we're going to get. This is what it’s turned into."