Saturday March 16, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- It isn't all that often you get an NCAA Division III Tournament Sweet 16 rematch two years later.

But that's exactly what basketball fans will get tonight in Chandler Gym as the Williams College men will host Virginia Wesleyan at 7 for the right to play in the Elite Eight round next weekend in Salem, Va.

"I remember that being a really tough game," said Williams senior point guard Nate Robertson. "They were a great team. That was one of the tougher games in that stretch of the tournament for us."

It was March 11, 2011, when the Marlins came to Chandler. The visitors from the Old Dominion Athletic Conference led for much of the game until Troy Whittington's dunk with 5:55 left put the Ephs up 60-59.

A minute and a half later, Williams led 62-60 when Whittington drained two free throws. Consecutive 3-point baskets by James Wang and Harlan Dodson helped coach Mike Maker's team pull away. From there, the Ephs beat Amherst in the regional final and advanced to the Final Four.

Coach Dave Macedo's Marlins (23-7) come here having won 10 of their last 11 games, including an 80-69 win over Christopher Newport last week.

Macedo, who was named D3hoops.com All-South region coach of the year this week, brings a team that was the preseason No. 1 team in Division III and shared the ODAC regular-season
championship.

Four key members of the 2012-13 Marlins were also contributors the last time VWC came to Chandler. Chris Teasley had a team-high 17 points in that earlier game while guard D.J. Woodmore had 13 points and 6 boards and point guard Tre' Ford had 11 points, four assists and four turnovers. The Ephs held 6-foot-5 forward Chris Astorga to seven points two years ago. He and ODAC player of the year Woodmere share team-scoring honors with a 14.8-point average.

"They've been anchors of our program since they've arrived on campus," said Macedo. "They've been in a lot of big games and have set a real high standard."

The Ephs have also been in a lot of big games, and are playing really good basketball right now. All five Williams starters are averaging in double figures in the postseason. Taylor Epley (21.5) and Michael Mayer (20.5) lead Williams. Both were named to the D3hoops.com All-Northeast team.

There is one statistic that both Maker and Macedo point to -- 3-point shooting stats -- that could tell the tale on Saturday. Williams shoots the 3-ball at a .389 rate and has three players shooting better than .400. Virginia Wesleyan defends the 3-point shot better than anyone in the country, allowing a shooting percentage of .296.

"What they're good at defensively is what we're good at offensively. We believe in the 3-point shot. They believe in defending the 3-point shot," said Maker. "I think they can run us off the 3-point line, so we are going to have to score differently by driving to the basket, by posting people. It's going to be a grind-it-out game."

The game may be a grind, but it will be a grind at Chandler. In Maker's three trips to the NCAA Tournament with Williams, the Ephs have only played games in two places -- Chandler Gym and the Salem Civic Center.

It's going to take a win tonight in order to get back to Southern Virginia, but both the Williams coach and his players understand what it means to be at home. Maker said that his team's record and strength of schedule earned the Ephs the right to host. It's something that makes the players happy.

"We have a great following up here," said Williams forward Daniel Wohl. "The fact that we got to play here another time means a lot to us.

"We know it doesn't guarantee anything, but we're really excited to play in front of our home crowd one last time."

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