SALEM, Va. -- The 2012-13 Williams College men's basketball team finished two games shy of its ultimate goal -- winning an NCAA Division III championship.
While Eph head coach Mike Maker admitted in a post-game news conference Friday that the loss to St. Thomas wasn't the way he would want the year to end, just being at the Salem Civic Center was where the Ephs want to be.
"If we end our season in Salem every year, it's a good year," said the fifth-year head coach.
Friday's 82-79 defeat ended Williams' season and the Ephs closed with a 26-5 record. It was Williams' seventh trip to Salem, but due to the schedule of the 2013 tournament, the first time Williams didn't get here to play in the Final Four.
"Only one team gets to end the year cutting the nets down," said Maker. "I wouldn't trade locker rooms with St. Thomas."
In Maker's five years at Williams, he has taken three teams to southern Virginia. Williams advanced to the championship game in 2010, losing to Wisconsin-Stevens Point. One year later, the Ephs lost to the College of Wooster in the semifinal round. Wooster went on to lose to St. Thomas in the Division III title game.
"For our senior class in particular to get to Salem three times in a four-year period is a phenomenal achievement," Maker said. "It doesn't take away the sting of the loss."
Williams was coming off a 17-8 season in 2011-12, a year where the Ephs didn't get to the NESCAC tournament semifinals.
By the time the Ephs' season wrapped up, they had made the Elite Eight and the senior class of Nate Robertson, James Klemm, Sean Hoffman and Parker McClelland had combined to win 102 games.
"It's hard to talk about this," said Maker on Friday. "It was my first recruiting class personally. I'm a real lucky coach to coach them."
Klemm, who finished his Williams career as a 1,000-point scorer, came to Salem as a freshman. He admitted that three trips was not on his radar.
"I don't know if I ever imagined making runs my sophomore year and this year," he said.
Williams graduates 32 of the 79 points it scored in the Elite Eight game. Klemm had a game-high 20 points while Robertson had 8 points and a game-high 11 assists. Hoffman scored 4 points in 8 key minutes during the first half.
"We're losing two phenomenal players. Nate, our point guard, you're not going to find a better point guard in the country, a better distributor," said junior forward Taylor Epley. "Klemm, you're not going to find a better shooter than him, and Hoff coming off the bench brings a spark and athleticism that can't be matched."
But Williams does bring back three players who were in double figures against St. Thomas. Epley, a 1,000-point scorer who led the team with an 18.6-point average, had 16 against the Tommies while Michael Mayer had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Mayer was No. 2 on the team with a 17.8 scoring average. Sophomore Daniel Wohl, the third starter, came into the game averaging 10.2 points and scored 11 and added 6 boards.
Junior John Weinheimer became a real energy guy off the bench for Williams, and could see more time in next year's rotation. The Ephs also welcome back Hayden Rooke-Ley, who missed all year with an injury. Sophomore forward Ryan Kilcullen will have had a full year of education to Maker's system under his belt, and could be a real contributor next year.
"I think we still have a lot of talent left," said Epley. "I have a lot of faith in our team to do what we need to do in the offseason to bounce back."
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.