The 2010 Division III men’s basketball tournament won’t soon be forgotten by the University of Maine at Farmington, and UMF probably won’t soon be forgotten by one of the favorites to win it.
For 37 minutes, the Beavers hung around with the No.2 ranked team in the country before superior shooting from the 3-point and free-throw lines allowed Williams to take control late and pull away with a 83-64 victory at Chandler Gym in Williamstown, MA.
Williams (27-1) picked up its 18th straight win and advances to the Sweet 16, where it will face SUNYIT. UMF, which started the season 0-8, concludes it with a 15-12 record and a bushel of firsts, including its first North Atlantic Conference title, its first NCAA tournament appearance, and its first NCAA tournament win (at Bridgewater State last Thursday night).
“They really went toe-to-toe with Williams,” UMF coach Dick Meader said. “I was really pleased with how we would make mistakes and, just as this team has been resilient all year, would still battle back again and again.”
Williams guards Blake Schultz, James Wang and Alex Rubin dominated the second half. Schultz, the New England Small College Athletic Conference Player of the Year, finished with a game-high 23 points and four steals. Wang had 22 points and six assists, while Rubin tallied 21 points. The trio combined to shoot 13-for-22 from the 3-point line as the Ephs, who led the country in 3-point percentage this year (45 percent), made 13 of 26 for the game, including eight of 12 in the second half.
“They’re very, very good,” Meader said. “They shoot it extremely well. They handle the ball well. They pass and move well. They’re very solid.”
Junior forward Eric Taylor led the Beavers with 24 points and nine rebounds, while senior guard Eric Lelansky added 18 points.
Trailing by six at halftime, UMF pulled to within two on a drive by D.J. Gerrish (seven points, six assists) and a Taylor layup early in the second half. That was as close as the Beavers would get, but they made the Ephs work to get out of reach.
Rubin hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Schultz added a trey to quickly put the Ephs back up by nine, but the Beavers chipped away to pull back within five on a Kevin Leary 3 with 13:50 to go.
Then came a key sequence that seemed to stagger UMF. After what appeared to be a Williams turnover was ruled Ephs’ ball under their own basket, Wang fed Troy Whittington (10 points, six rebounds, four blocks off the bench) an alley-oop for a thunderous dunk on the ensuing out of bounds play that made it 58-50.
“That seemed to separate things, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Meader said. “I tell you what, you don’t see many guys in Division III get up that high very often.”
Wang extended the Williams lead to 11 with a 3, but UMF again battled back by going inside to Taylor to cut the margin back to seven with a little less than eight minutes to go. The Ephs again tried to pull away on 3s by Wang and Schultz to go up 13, but the Beavers once again trimmed the deficit seven on an Andrew Dean putback and a Taylor hoop with 3:17 left.
“This group has been very resilient,” Meader said. “They have a short memory. If something bad happens offensively, they get back on defense and work hard and try to make something good happen on offense the next time.”
Rubin’s third 3-pointer of the half made it 72-62 and put the Ephs’ lead in double digits to stay. All but three of their points in the game-closing 11-2 run came from the free-throw line. Williams shot 20-for-22 from the free-throw line, UMF 4-for-7.
Despite giving up three or four inches at virtually every position, UMF outrebounded Williams, 32-25. But the effort it took to control the boards and defend Williams’ shooters took a lot out of the Beavers, Meader said.
“I think we wore down a little bit,” he said. “When you battle their size, the screens are a little bit harder, the cuts are a little bit longer and quicker, to say nothing of having to rebound against them.”
Williams threatened to make the game a blowout early by racing out to a 19-6 lead. The Beavers helped dig their own hole with a number of turnovers, but they regrouped to go on a 13-2 run sparked by Lelansky and Taylor. Lelansky’s 3-pointer from well above the top of the key gave them their last lead, 26-25, late in the first half.
Schultz and Rubin responded immediately with 3s as the Ephs gradually built their six-point halftime cushion.
“It’s been a great weekend for our program and for our guys,” said Meader, who graduates two seniors, Lelansky and starting center/leading rebounder Josh Tanguay. “They deserve the respect they gained.”