SALEM, Va. -- Nobody in Division III basketball would have been surprised if Williams had beaten Amherst in an NCAA national semifinal game Friday night.
What Williams did to Amherst, however, is another story entirely.
The Ephs shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half and were better in the second as they routed the Lord Jeffs 98-69 to reach the national championship game for the first time since 2010. Williams, which will meet Wisconsin-Whitewater at 5:30 p.m. today for the championship, is seeking its first D-III title since 2003.
Duncan Robinson scored a game-high 30 points as all five Williams starters scored in double figures. Mike Mayer had 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Mayer has had a double-double in all five NCAA tourney games.
The win by Williams ended an eight-game losing streak to the Ephs' Little Three rival and extended the Ephs' winning streak in NCAA Tournament games to five. All of that would be of great interest today, were it not for the facts of this game.
"I don't think anybody saw that coming," said Williams coach Mike Maker after the game. "We have such great respect for Amherst, their players and their coach. It's difficult to play a league opponent in the national semifinals. I'm really proud of our team, the way we attacked and played with confidence."
Williams couldn't have played a whole lot better than it did Friday night. After taking a 45-32 halftime lead, Williams scored the first 11 points of the second half and the Lord Jeffs never recovered.
For the game, Williams shot 63.3 percent from the floor to Amherst's 38.6.
"There's not a whole lot to say other than congratulations to Williams. They played great," Amherst coach Dave Hixon said. "They shot the ball really well. The harder we chased them, the more they executed perfectly and got lay ups out of it."
Amherst had foul difficulties in the game. Center David George picked up two fouls in the first 10 minutes and didn't play much in the last 10 minutes. Aaron Toomey also picked up two fouls in the first half, and both were careful at the end because they had four fouls each.
Even with a stellar first 20 minutes, the Ephs only led by 13 at halftime. The Lord Jeffs had the ball to start the second half and George missed the first shot. Mayer intimidated the Amherst freshman on the blocks; Mayer got the rebound and got the fast break going. Robinson finished the break with a 3-point hoop from the top of the key.
Not only was it a bad way for Amherst to start the second half, it was the first three of 11 unanswered Williams points that turned the 13-point lead into a 24-point advantage. The Lord Jeffs were shaken.
"We did play really well in the first half, and when we got in the locker room at halftime, we were just trying to play with the same intensity," said Mayer. "I don't think any of us thought that would happen."
Connor Green, who had 26 points for Amherst, missed on the Lord Jeffs' next trip and freshman guard Mike Greenman hit a jumper. Taylor Epley and Greenman both hit 3-point shots before Amherst's David Kalema got a basket and a free throw.
At the TV timeout with 17:24 left, Williams had staggered Amherst with a 56-35 lead.
"One of the things we like to emphasize is that the first five minutes of the second half are very crucial," said Wohl. "Everyone in the locker room was saying ‘First five, first five.' We really emphasized those first five minutes and made it a point to come out strong."
Epley finished with 18 points for Williams, while Greenman had 12 and Wohl had 10 to go with seven rebounds and a game-high eight assists.
Toomey, Amherst's all-time leading scorer, was held to three points on 1 for 8 shooting from the floor. He didn't break the scoring ice until he hit a 3-point shot with 7:50 left in the game.
Wisconsin-Whitewater advanced out of the other side of the bracket. The Warhawks got 30 points from KJ Evans to beat Illinois Wesleyan 71-63.
Whitewater coach Pat Miller said at halftime of the second game that both teams would be a real challenge. Preparing for Williams or Amherst also presents a challenge.
"Both of them are very skilled. Both of them run very good stuff," said Miller. "Both teams are very well coached. They're skilled at multiple positions and both teams have good size."
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