williams players watch the selection show

Members of the Williams College men's basketball team gathered in the Alex Shaw Basketball Offices Monday to watch the NCAA Division III selection show. The Ephs will travel to Mount Union in Ohio, and will play Neumann in the first round Friday.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The road to Fort Wayne will not go through Williamstown.

It may be a longer trek to a possible NCAA Division III Final Four berth, but it is one that the Williams College men’s basketball team was all smiles about.

“It was exciting” to see Williams’ name appear during the NCAA.com Division III selection show, Eph first-year Brandon Roughley said. “Growing up, just watching college basketball and March Madness, it’s just a surreal feeling to see Williams pop up on the selection show.

“We’re excited to get to work and compete for a national championship.”

The road will start in the middle of Ohio, as the Ephs were sent to a pod hosted by the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. Williams (17-4) will play Atlantic East Conference champion Neumann University (21-7) of suburban Philadelphia. In the second game, host Mount Union (23-4) will play MAC Freedom Conference champion Stevens Institute of Technology (16-8). In a battle of Top 10 teams Saturday, No. 8 Mount Union lost the Ohio Athletic Conference title to second-ranked Marietta 63-61. That means Williams and Mount Union are Pool C, or at-large teams.

Neumann’s coach is Jim Rullo, and he is married to former Taconic High School standout Maureen Michaels.

The second-round game will be played on Saturday.

The Division III Final Four will be played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the weekend of March 18-19.

Of the 10 players who participated in Sunday’s NESCAC championship game at Wesleyan, the only rotation players who were on the team the last time Williams went to the NCAA Tournament were Jovan Jones, Spencer Spivy and Marc Taylor, all of whom were first-years in 2018-19. Spivy played 12 minutes in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games at Hamilton that year.

For the rest of the current crop of Ephs, this will be their first appearance in an NCAA Division III tournament game.

“It’s always been a goal of ours. That’s what we’ve been working for since the beginning of the fall,” first-year Declan Porter said. “I’m just excited to get to Mount Union and get to work this week.”

Williams coach Kevin App is guiding the Ephs into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons. In 2017, he took the Ephs to the Division III Final Four and in 2018 made it to the Elite Eight.

“It’s a big day,” App said. “That’s what I told these guys. It’s kind of a big goal for every college basketball player at every level, and any time your team gets rewarded for what they’ve done, it’s pretty exciting.”

Williams and Mount Union both showed up in the pre-tournament D3hoops.com national Top 25. Williams dropped one spot from 21 to 22, while Mount Union fell from No. 8 to 11. The top four teams in the poll were Randolph-Macon, Marietta, Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Christopher Newport. Wesleyan, 78-75 overtime winners against Williams to win the NESCAC Tournament, moved up from No. 11 to No. 8.

The Cardinals will host a pod against Husson, with RPI and Nichols in the other game.

There are a couple of challenges for App and assistants Steve Phillips and Justin Sosinsky: Getting information on the teams in the pod, and getting to Ohio.

For the record, the University of Mount Union is located in Alliance, Ohio, a small city of 21,000 that is located 51 miles southeast of Cleveland, 149 miles northeast of Columbus, 16 miles northeast of Canton and 83 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It also happens to be 537 miles from Williamstown.

“Logistics, how to get back to Alliance, Ohio, where we were back in [2016],” said App.

The Ephs played in Mount Union’s M-Club Classic Dec. 29 and 30 of 2016. They beat then 15th-ranked Hope 91-85 in overtime and took down the hosts 70-67 in the championship game.

As soon as the show was over, both Phillips and Sosinsky were bent over their computers starting to check on stats and trying to arrange to get scouting videos.

“Everything is digital now, so we can log in to get film in the next five minutes,” App said. “It’s pretty easy and accessible now, which makes it a lot easier at this time of the year. We played Mount Union in [2016]. We know they’re well-coached and a great program. We’ll know a lot more [about Neumann] later today.”

This is why seniors like Jovan Jones took the last school year off in order to preserve their eligibility and get to another NCAA Tournament.

“For sure, yeah,” Jones said, who was then asked if he was surprised to see Williams’ name show up quickly. “Surprised? No. Happy. Yes. It’s always good to see your name up there on a national level.”

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.