April 7, 2013

Lord Jeffs seize second title

More news about: Amherst | Mary Hardin-Baylor
Amherst got a Walnut and Bronze to match its 2007 title trophy.
Photo by Larry Radloff, UMHB athletics

By Gordon Mann
D3sports.com

Amherst scored the first 10 points of the 2013 championship game against Mary Hardin-Baylor and rode that cushion to an 87-70 victory and its second national championship.

Amherst won the 2007 national championship in the traditional Division III format at the Salem Civic Center in front of 3,075 people. This title came on a much bigger stage at Philips Arena, home of the NBA Atlanta Hawks, in front of an electrifying crowd announced at 6,284.

Throughout the week, Amherst coach Dave Hixon told his players not to worry about playing on such a big stage. "I kept saying, 'You don’t need to do anything different, just be who you are and you're going to be confident in that. Don't be nervous, we know who we are and let's be that."

If there were any lingering concerns, Amherst quickly took care of them. Aaron Toomey drilled a three-pointer in the opening minute to open the scoring and Allen Williamson nailed another to cap a game-opening 10-0 run.

Amherst kept the double-digit advantage for most of the first half until Mary Hardin-Baylor cut the lead to 33-28 on a pair of transition baskets by Thomas Orr. He capped the Crusaders' small flurry with a fast break two-handed dunk.

On the next Amherst possession, Williamson converted an offensive rebound into a layup and Amherst wingman Tom Killian knocked down a three to push the lead back to 10. That was a recurring theme. Every time the Crusaders got within six points, Williamson or Willy Workman hit a couple shots to push the lead back to double digits.

Amherst led 38-30 at the break, despite a difficult first half for All-American Aaron Toomey.  Foul trouble limited him to 10 minutes and he missed the rest of his shots after the game-opening three. 

"It was frustrating to go down with two fouls in the first half, but Allen (Williamson) hit big shots, Willy (Workman) hit big shots and Tom (Killian) hit two huge threes for us," Toomey said. "I want to be in the there but I know we’re in good hands."

Mary Hardin-Baylor All-American Kitrick Bell didn’t fare much better. He went 1-for-3 in 15 minutes.

The second half opened just as the first half closed. Mary Hardin-Baylor went on a small run fueled by Orr.  He converted a layup to pull the Crusaders within four at 38-34. But Workman answered with a jump shot and a three pointer to push the lead back to nine. Mary Hardin Baylor fought back within four two minutes later before Aaron Toomey hit a deep three-pointer off a disjointed fast break made more hectic by a bank of lights shutting down midway through possession.

After a media time out, the officials decided to continue the game without the full set of lights. In the postgame press conference, Hixon said the officials agreed to stop the game if the lights turned back on and made the court noticeably brighter.

The lights weren’t an issue for the Lord Jeffs who continued to pull away. Williamson wrestled away an offensive rebound on the baseline and slashed to the basket for a one-hand tomahawk dunk to give Amherst a 52-43 lead with 13 minutes left. Workman followed that highlight with a layup to push the Lord Jeffs' lead to double-digits for good.

Mary Hardin-Baylor tried to pull closer by driving to the rim. Ten of the Crusaders' 15 second half field goals were layups, often as put backs off their own misses. At one point Bell missed a put back from a couple feet away and grabbed his head in frustration and disbelief as Amherst gathered the rebound.

"Kitrick Bell never misses a shot around the basket like he did," Crusader head coach Ken DeWeese noted after the game. "Just one of those things. It was a terrible experience offensively."

Toomey shook off his slow start and finished with 16 points and six assists. His teammates made sure the Lord Jeffs survived his slow start. Williamson finished with 18 points and six rebounds and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

"Every suicide we've run, every time I've taken free throws after practice, every time I've worked in my basement, I feel it's all led up to today and I'm glad it all ended up this way," said Williamson. "Great way to finish up a career."

Amherst shot 41 percent (29-for-71), hit 10 three-pointers and only committed six turnovers, half its season average. Orr led Mary Hardin-Baylor with 24 points.  Workman led the Lord Jeffs in minutes (39), rebounds (10) and blocks (two).

"When you're a little kid out in the driveway, you dream of hitting a big shot and you think about the NBA. But this is as close as we're going to get," Workman said with a big smile, glistening eyes and a piece of the championship game net dangling from his hat. "This is what it’s turned into."

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