Williamson's March eases February sting

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Allen Williamson came up big for the Lord Jeffs throughout the NCAA Tournament.
Photo by Larry Radloff, UMHB athletics 

By Brian Lester

ATLANTA --- Allen Williamson had a piece of the net hanging on his newly minted NCAA Division III national championship hat. His smile was as wide as could be and the joy in his voice was unmistakable as he talked about what it meant to help Amherst finish on top of the basketball world.

Williamson had just torched Mary Hardin-Baylor for 18 points, including five in the first three minutes of the game as the Lord Jeffs rushed out to 10-0 lead that ultimately proved crucial to their success in an 87-70 win over the Crusaders Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous crowd of 6,284 at Philips Arena.

Williamson was named the MVP of the tournament, a heck of an accomplishment for a player who wasn’t even on the All-NESCAC team this year.

He said his performance didn’t surprise him. Not when he had been focusing on making himself a force to be reckoned with on the offensive end of the floor. His memorable championship game effort marked the 22nd time he has scored in double figures.

“The whole tournament I’ve been trying to be aggressive offensively and try to get my good looks and get my shots off when I had a chance to do it,” Williamson said. “I was fortunate to get some early buckets today. I just wanted to get the guys going.”

Williamson had always dreamed of winning a title, and as the final seconds ticked off the clock, the reality slowly sinking in that Amherst would be the champions of D-III for the first time since 2007, the senior guard savored the moment with his teammates on the floor as blue and white confetti fell drifted down to the arena floor.

“This feels great. I can’t explain it right now. It’s still sinking in,” Williamson said. “But I feel like my whole career kind of is the pinnacle of everything, every suicide we’ve run, every time I’ve taken free throws after practice, every time I’ve worked in my basement on my handle, I feel it’s all led up to today and I’m glad it ended this way.”

Amherst coach David Hixon was proud of what Williamson was able to do in a game with so much pressure riding on it. He wasn’t, however, surprised by it on a day when Amherst brought home its second national title in program history.

“Allen has been a special player for us. He is very talented in our league, which isn’t athletic,” Hixon said. “It’s been the last 12, 15 games that he’s taken on a role of making things happen, trying to get his 15-foot range where he’s really good and maybe hesitating and getting to the rack. Tell you what, I couldn’t be happier for any person on our team to win the MVP of the tournament than I am for Allen.”

Dealing with Williamson wasn’t easy, particularly during a crucial juncture of the second half. With Amherst holding onto a 46-39 lead and the Crusaders doing everything they could to steal the momentum, Williamson drove into the lane for a layup and followed with a thunderous one-hand jam moments later that put the Lord Jeffs up 52-43 with 12:44 remaining.

It wasn’t just that Williamson was productive from a scoring standpoint, but he also worked hard near the basket and came away with six rebounds.

“(Williamson) did a great job of crashing the boards and we had to contain them,” Crusaders guard Brian Todd said. “It was challenging dealing with him.”

From a defensive standpoint, Williamson was solid as well and helped defend Crusaders star Kitrick Bell, who was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting.

“I was guarding Bell at times and he’s not too much different as far as size and ability, so (Willy Workman) and I switched off a couple of times,” Williamson said. “We just played together and we tried to take away what he likes to do.”

Williamson helped put the finishing touches on the game down the stretch, hitting three free throws as the Lord Jeffs sealed the deal on a season that ended with a 24-game win streak.  The streak is the longest in program history and the 30 wins are a school record as well.

“We came down here knowing who we were as a team,” Hixon said. “We had crystalized individual identities, team identities, and we knew what we were. I kept saying we don’t need to do anything different. We just had to be who we have been all year. We just played basketball the way Amherst has been playing basketball the last 24 games.”

Amherst shot 40.8 percent as a team and Williamson was one of four players in double figures. Aaron Toomey and Connor Green pumped in 16 points apiece and Workman dropped in 14 points.

Amherst was playing in the title game for the third time in seven years and now they will enter next season as the defending champions.

Defending that title won’t be easy, especially with Amherst losing three seniors, including Williamson.

But this Sunday afternoon in April for the Lord Jeffs was all about enjoying the moment, savoring the thrill of seeing five months of hard work and effort pay off with college basketball’s ultimate prize firmly in their grasp.

And being able to do it in the Final Four city will make this memory even more vivid for years to come.

“The whole weekend was a special treat for us, unlike anything I’ve experienced, and I’m sure the guys will say the same thing,” Williamson said. “It was awesome playing in the arena with the bright lights and the fans were packed in there. It was a great experience.”