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Aaron Toomey leads Amherst men's basketball to NCAA Division III quarterfinals

For senior guard and NESCAC player of the year Aaron Toomey, it’s also a chance to go home.

“This is as close as I’ll ever get to play near my hometown of Greensboro (N.C.), so there’s been a lot of people asking the times of the games and where the games are,” Toomey said. “It’s nice to have this kind of support and hopefully we can get a good turnout.”

Toomey Nation will make the 103-mile trek from North Carolina to join the rest of the Amherst fans tonight at 5:30 at the Salem Civic Center when the Lord Jeffs face Cabrini College of Pennsylvania in an Elite Eight game. The winner advances to Saturday’s game against the winner of the Middlebury-North Central (Ill.) game on Saturday night. That game follows Amherst-Cabrini.

“It’s what you strive for every year, to make it to Salem, Virginia,” Toomey said during media day Thursday. “It’s special. You get that feeling you’re in a special place and hopefully, we can get a couple of games and take advantage of it.”

Amherst (27-2), Middlebury (25-3) and Williams (26-4) are all representing NESCAC at the Elite Eight. The four-game Friday starts at noon when Williams plays St. Thomas (Minn.), the No. 1 team in the final D3hoops.com national poll.

The Lord Jeffs will play a Cavaliers team that has returned after making the national championship game in 2012. Wisconsin-Whitewater beat Cabrini 63-60 for last year’s title.

“We are thrilled to be playing, especially with the road we’ve been on,” Cabrini coach Marcus Kahn said. “They’ve all been on the road. We’ve been the underdog in every game and we’re the only unranked team coming down here.”

After winning the Colonial States Athletic Conference title, the Cavaliers went on the road to win at Hampden-Sydney, Ohio Wesleyan and the College of Wooster.

Cabrini is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Aaron Walton-Moss of Camden, N.J., who averages 14.9 points per game. He is one of four Crusaders to score in double figures.

“We want this game to get up into the 80s somewhere and played at a very fast pace,” Kahn said. “Regardless of the score, I want it to be more up and down rather than settling in the half court.”

Amherst coach Dave Hixon is bringing his first team here since the Lord Jeffs lost to Washington (Mo.) 90-68 in 2008. It was the second of back-to-back years here as the Lord Jeffs won the Division III national title by beating Virginia Wesleyan 80-67 in 2007.

Hixon said his team is playing its best basketball right now, and the Lord Jeffs will need that against a challenging Cabrini squad.

They bring “a lot of quickness. They have a pretty big-time player who has taken 22 and 23 shots the last few games. He’s had 16 3-pointers in his three NCAA games and is averaging 9 rebounds a game for the year,” Hixon said. “They’re really athletic and quick to the basket. They’re a little shorter than we are. I’m not so sure shortness makes a difference.

“We played a really good team last week in Randolph-Macon, and we thought they were awfully quick too. We had to do some things and we did it. We’re playing pretty well right now, and I hope we continue to play pretty well.”

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