Third-Ranked Williams Claims First-Ever NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship with 74-70 Win Over 10th-Ranked Amherst

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March 2, 2003 

AMHERST, MA - Third-ranked and second-seeded Williams College jumped out to an early 20-point lead and withstood a ferocious second-half comeback en route to a dramatic 74-70 win over top-seeded and 10th-ranked Amherst College in the title game of the NESCAC Men's Basketball Postseason Championship Tournament on Sunday. With the win the Ephs claim their first-ever conference championship, improve to 26-1 and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Two-time defending champion Amherst falls to 22-4 and awaits word of an at-large bid. NCAA pairings will be announced Sunday night at 9 p.m. The NCAA selection show will air live on the Internet, courtesy of 

The visiting Ephs shot the lights out early on, extending what was a manageable six-point led to 20 points with a 14-0 run over a two-minute stretch late in the first half. Williams nailed four consecutive three-point attempts during the barrage, including two straight by senior guard Tim Folan (Kensington, MD) and a deep three by junior guard Chuck Abba (Delmar, NY) that gave them a 42-22 advantage with 3:26 left before the break. 

Amherst trimmed the lead to 15 points with a pair of three-pointers by junior guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC), the second of which rained in at the buzzer from well behind the arc. Williams shot 55.9% (19-for-34) in the opening period, including a 7-for-13 clip from three-point range, and took a 45-30 lead into the locker room despite having no first-half free throw attempts. 

The Ephs kept the lead in double digits for the first 14 minutes of the second half, but Amherst bridged the gap to nine points when senior forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) sank a pair of free throws with 5:57 left in regulation. Zieja then brought the Jeffs within eight with his only three-pointer of the night, and Harper made it a six-point game with a pair of free throws. With two minutes remaining junior guard John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) grabbed a defensive rebound off a Jaris Cole (San Diego, CA) miss, dribbled the length of the floor and drilled a foul-line jumper to bring Amherst within four. Forty seconds later, a blocked shot by senior center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) led to another transition bucket by Donovan, who was fouled in the act, and the Jeffs trailed by just two points, 68-66, with 1:16 on the clock. 

A missed free throw by Donovan led to a Fitzsimons foul, sending Williams senior forward Drew DeMuth (Carlisle, PA) to the line, where he calmly sunk a pair of free throws to extend the lead back to four points with a minute remaining. Amherst trimmed it to two with two more free throws by Harper. Williams junior forward Ben Coffin (Westford, MA) answered with a mid-range jumper with 29 seconds left, and the Ephs led 72-68 with 29 seconds on the clock. 

After an Amherst timeout, Zieja hit a clutch jumper from the left wing to make it a one-possession game in the waning seconds. The hosts were forced to put Williams on the line, where Coffin sank a pair of pressure free throws to ice the win and set the final score at 74-70. 

Coffin paced Williams with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Abba and Folan pitched in with 12 each. Zieja led four Amherst players in double figures with 23 points. Harper added 14 points and a career- and game-high 15 rebounds. 

The loss was Amherst's first in three seasons of NESCAC Tournament play. 

Sports information student assistant Emily Ratcliff '03 snapped 25 digital photos at Sunday's game, capturing the highs and lows of victory and defeat. 

Box Score / Play-by-Play