AMHERST -- Taylor Epley said he was sure the basket was going to go in.
Amherst's Allen Williamson had other ideas.
With his team trailing by a point and the clock under five seconds in the game, the Eph swingman caught a pass from Nate Robertson and drove the baseline for what would have been a game-winning basket. Williamson came from behind to block the ball and end Williams' hopes for a NESCAC men's basketball championship.
"Oh yeah, I thought that was going in," Epley said after top-seeded Amherst beat No. 2 Williams 74-73, before a packed house in LeFrak Gymnasium.
"I got [Peter Kaasila] with the body and I just didn't think to look behind me," said Epley, who scored a game-high 22 points. "Williamson came out of nowhere. It was a great block. You have to give him credit for it."
The win gives Amherst (25-2) the automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament, while Williams (23-4) has to wait until this afternoon to get its expected at-large bid to the men's tournament. It was Amherst's third straight NESCAC title, becoming the first team to win three straight titles since they started keeping track in 2001.
"I thought it was a classic between two heavyweights," Williams coach Mike Maker said.
In a game where there were 14 lead changes and 14 ties, it was only fitting that the game come down to the last possession.
The Lord Jeffs led 72-69 with 1:10 left. Robertson drove to the basket but missed the shot and Michael Mayer, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds, tipped the ball in to make it 72-71.
A critical series of plays gave Amherst the ball. Daniel Wohl got a steal from Tom Killian on a rebound, but the Lord Jeffs got the ball right back when Robertson lost the handle and Amherst got the ball on the alternate possession rule even as Maker tried to call time out.
Wohl fouled Williamson with 25 seconds left. Williamson, who shoots .700 from the line, made both ends of the 1-and-1 for his 16th and 17th points. Amherst coach Dave Hixon called time to set up a defensive play, but Epley drove to the hoop and it was 74-73 with 14 seconds left.
Wohl fouled out two seconds later and put Toomey at the line. The Amherst guard, who took 119 free throws this year and missed only 10, missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Mayer rebounded and as the Ephs got the ball into the frontcourt, Williamson committed a foul Amherst had to give. Five seconds were left on the clock.
Epley was the first option on the play. Williamson had other ideas.
"I was guarding Mayer and I saw Epley coming off Mayer's screen," said Williamson. "The guy guarding him was a little off him on the trail. I saw him go for the floater, so I just jumped up as high as I could and hoped I got it."
Amherst never led by more than seven -- and that was early in the first half -- and Williams never led by more than two. Amherst led 37-35 at halftime.
Robertson chipped in with 11 points for Williams and five assists. Kaasila had 14 points, Toomey 10 and Connor Green had 11 off the bench.
"I told them I was really proud of them and that we have the capability of going on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament," said the Williams coach. "I think both us and Amherst are deserving of high seeds."
To reach Howard Herman:
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