Sunday March 10, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- There are six NCAA Division III basketball Final Four banners hanging in Chandler Gym and all of them belong to the Williams College men. Not anymore.

As the seconds ticked down Saturday night, the fans in Chandler Gym started chanting "Final Four! Final Four!" The Ephs led by 19 points at halftime but Whitman cut the lead to seven points in the second half, but got no closer as Williams earned a 63-53 NCAA quarterfinal win on Saturday night.

"It feels so good" to put a banner up, said Williams forward Danny Rainer. "We finally beat the [1999] team. We have our own legacy now."

That 1999 team lost in the Elite Eight to Salem State.

This Saturday, Rainer scored a career-high 22 points and the Ephs blocked a school record 20 shots. Claire Baecher only scored seven points, but she was one rebound and one block away from a double-double. Ellen Cook had 12 points for Williams, scoring 10 in the first half.

Williams (26-5) heads to the Final Four in Holland, Mich., this weekend. Williams will play DePauw (Ind.) in one national semifinal, as DePauw advanced to the Final Four with a 76-55 win over Christopher Newport.

The win was Williams' 26th of the season, a school record.

The Ephs led 41-22 at halftime, playing as good a half of basketball as they seemed capable of. Williams held Whitman (23-6) to 9 of 38 from the floor and 0 for 3 from 3-point range. While they were defending, the Ephs shot 53.1 percent from the floor, making 17 of 32.

Williams and Whitman traded baskets to open the second half, and when Jennie Harding hit two free throws, the Ephs led 49-30 with 12:02 left, and the game was over. Not quite.

Whitman started chipping away at the Williams lead. A 19-point lead became seven when Heather Johns hit a jumper with 6:55 left to play.

"You come in with a 19-point cushion and you're feeling pretty good about yourself," said Williams guard Grace Rehnquist. "It's bad to say, but it's easy to get complacent with big leads. One of the greatest assets of our team is its composure. When the lead was cut to seven, we responded and we responded the rest of the half."

Jennie Harding missed a 3-point shot but Rainer got the rebound and scored on the put-back. That gave Williams a 52-43 lead with 6:38 left in the game. The Missionaries got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Sarah Anderegg scored 18 points for Whitman while Johns had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

"They did the same thing yesterday. You can never count them out of a game," said Williams coach Pat Manning, recalling Friday's opener in which Whitman rallied in the final seconds to beat Emory. "We came up with stops when we needed to and big shots when we needed to."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.