Monday March 14, 2011

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Williams College guard Nate Robertson smiled at the though of the question. After all, the sophomore is going to his second NCAA Division III Final Four in two years.

"I couldn't imagine a better start," Robertson said. In the post-game media conference Saturday night. "I feel so blessed to be a part of this program. It's something I've been able to completely buy into.

"I've seen things like this happen before," he continued. "To be able to be a part of this is an incredible experience."

Robertson and his Williams teammates will board an airplane later this week for the flight to Salem, Va., and battle for the second NCAA basketball title in school history.

Williams earned its ticket to the Final Four by beating Amherst 77-71 before a capacity crowd of 1,561 in Chandler Gym. Robertson had the opportunity to play the role of one of Williams' heroes. He scored a game-high 22 points, found Troy Whittington for a game-changing dunk, and helped ice the victory with a 3-pointer.

"I thought our job to get through this bracket was going to be challenging. It was good we were playing at home, but it was never going to be easy," Williams coach Mike Maker said. "We had a lot of guys in foul trouble over the last few games, but different guys stepped up."

It was the third time this year that Williams had played Amherst. In the first game, the Lord Jeffs scored a 92-89 win in overtime up at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst. One month later, the Ephs eked out a 74-70 win.

"It's a phenomenal accomplishment to beat a team that talented," Maker said."We feel blessed to go to Salem for the second year in a row."

Williams will face the College of Wooster in a 6 p.m. national semifinal on Friday night. The Ephs will have some familiar company in Salem, as NESCAC champion Middlebury also reached the Final Four. The Panthers will face St. Thomas (Minn.) in the second game of the doubleheader.

The winners will play Saturday at 1. If Williams and Middlebury get through, it would be a rubber game for these NESCAC rivals. Williams and Amherst met in a national semifinal in 2004.

And if members of Eph Nation are looking for an omen, try this on for size. In 2003, Williams beat Amherst in the Elite Eight and played Wooster in the national semis. Drew DeMuth's overtime tip-in gave Williams a 74-72 win. The next afternoon, the Ephs beat Gustavus Adolphus 67-65 as Dave Paulsen's Ephs claimed a national title.

This is the third time Williams has gone to consecutive Final Fours. Harry Sheehy took the Ephs in 1997 and 1998, while Paulsen returned to the Final Four in 2004 after winning the national title the year before. Maker joins a pretty elite group.

"I think we're the only one [of the Final Four teams] that remains that went to Salem twice," Maker said. "Harry did it, Dave did it, and my players did it. I love them and I'm really proud of their effort."