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Amherst men’s basketball at center stage with second NCAA title

  • Amherst poses with their championship trophy after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA college Division lll national championship basketball game on Sunday, April 7, 2013, in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo/John Amis)

    Amherst poses with their championship trophy after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA college Division lll national championship basketball game on Sunday, April 7, 2013, in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo/John Amis) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College players celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College players celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College players, from left, Allen Williamson, Ben Pollack and Connor Gach celebrate  their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College players, from left, Allen Williamson, Ben Pollack and Connor Gach celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amhurst College coach David Hixon during the first half of the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game against Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amhurst College coach David Hixon during the first half of the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game against Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, Amherst College players Allen Williamson, Willy Workman and Ben Pollack block a shot by  Brian Todd of Mary Hardin-Baylor during the  NCAA Division III national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    From left, Amherst College players Allen Williamson, Willy Workman and Ben Pollack block a shot by Brian Todd of Mary Hardin-Baylor during the NCAA Division III national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College players celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College players celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College coach David Hixon celebrates while cutting the net after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College coach David Hixon celebrates while cutting the net after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College players Connor Green, left, and Ben Pollack celebrate after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College players Connor Green, left, and Ben Pollack celebrate after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College guard David Kalema, left, and forward Tom Killian react during the closing moments against Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA  Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College guard David Kalema, left, and forward Tom Killian react during the closing moments against Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College players react to a basket in the closing moments against Mary Hardin-Baylor during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College players react to a basket in the closing moments against Mary Hardin-Baylor during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mary Hardin-Baylor wing Thomas Orr, right, blocks the shot of Amherst  College guard Allen Williamson during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Mary Hardin-Baylor wing Thomas Orr, right, blocks the shot of Amherst College guard Allen Williamson during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College guard Aaron Toomey, front, and Mary Hardin-Baylor guard Brian Todd vie for a loose ball during the NCAA Division lll national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College guard Aaron Toomey, front, and Mary Hardin-Baylor guard Brian Todd vie for a loose ball during the NCAA Division lll national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College center Peter Kaasila, left, and Mary Hardin-Baylor guard Brian Toddd vie for a rebound during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College center Peter Kaasila, left, and Mary Hardin-Baylor guard Brian Toddd vie for a rebound during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College men's basketball coach David Hixon celebrates after cutting the net following their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College men's basketball coach David Hixon celebrates after cutting the net following their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst poses with their championship trophy after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA college Division lll national championship basketball game on Sunday, April 7, 2013, in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo/John Amis)
  • Amherst College players celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College players, from left, Allen Williamson, Ben Pollack and Connor Gach celebrate  their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)
  • Amhurst College coach David Hixon during the first half of the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game against Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • From left, Amherst College players Allen Williamson, Willy Workman and Ben Pollack block a shot by  Brian Todd of Mary Hardin-Baylor during the  NCAA Division III national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College players celebrate their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College coach David Hixon celebrates while cutting the net after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College players Connor Green, left, and Ben Pollack celebrate after defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College guard David Kalema, left, and forward Tom Killian react during the closing moments against Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA  Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College players react to a basket in the closing moments against Mary Hardin-Baylor during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Mary Hardin-Baylor wing Thomas Orr, right, blocks the shot of Amherst  College guard Allen Williamson during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College guard Aaron Toomey, front, and Mary Hardin-Baylor guard Brian Todd vie for a loose ball during the NCAA Division lll national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College center Peter Kaasila, left, and Mary Hardin-Baylor guard Brian Toddd vie for a rebound during the NCAA Division lll national championship basketball game Sunday in Atlanta. Amherst won 87-70. (AP Photo)
  • Amherst College men's basketball coach David Hixon celebrates after cutting the net following their 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

ATLANTA — What began nearly a year ago as a dream ended in giddy reality for the Amherst College men’s basketball team Sunday afternoon.

The Jeffs made the most of their day on center stage at the NCAA Final Four by blitzing Mary Hardin-Baylor in an 87-70 victory before 6,284 fans at Philips Arena to claim the school’s second Division III national championship.

Allen Williamson registered a team-high 18 points for Amherst, while fellow senior guard Willy Workman of Northampton added 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and a steal to pace the New England Small College Athletic Conference champions to their school-record 24th consecutive victory and the school’s first national crown since 2007.

“Well, obviously, when you’re a kid growing up, the only thing you want to do as a basketball player is play in the NBA,” Workman said. “That’s what I wanted to do as long as I can remember. So when I heard (last spring) that (the championship game) was going to be played in Atlanta and it was going to be at Philips Arena, I was overjoyed and we set our minds that we were going to get here and play in this arena.”

The Division III title game is usually played in Salem, Va., but it was moved to Philips Arena this season as part of the NCAA’s 75th anniversary of March Madness.

“It’s hard right now to even put into words, and I’ve been through this once before,” Amherst coach David Hixon said. “It’s really hard, where this team came from and where it ended up.”

The Jeffs (30-2) wasted little time establishing control of the game, running off the game’s first 10 points to lead from start to finish and match the best single-season win total in school history.

Workman tallied seven of his points in a furious two-minute stretch just before the midway point of the first half as Amherst extended its lead to as many 13 points on several occasions before the break.

Thomas Orr finished with game-highs in both points (24) and rebounds (11) to pace the Crusaders, whose season ended at 27-6.

They struggled against the superior interior size of the Jeffs who blocked five shots and altered many others around the rim. Mary Hardin-Baylor shot 36.2 percent (25-of-69) overall for the game and just 22 percent (2-of-9) from 3-point range before the break.

The Crusaders nonetheless climbed back to within four points early in the second half before Amherst slammed the door shut with its superior depth. Junior guard David Kalema and freshman Connor Green provided much-needed offensive sparks on a rare quiet offensive afternoon from junior point guard Aaron Toomey. The Division III national player of the year finished with 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and picked up his second foul about 10 minutes before halftime and spent the rest of the half on the bench. Toomey added six rebounds and six assists en route to being selected to the all-tournament team.

“When we pulled within four, I thought we were going to be able to ride the momentum and be able to tie or take the lead eventually, but every time we cut it to four, they hit a big shot or we gave up an offensive rebound and it killed our momentum,” Orr said.

Green finished with 16 points to pace the Jeffs bench that outscored their counterparts from Mary Hardin-Baylor 27-7. Nine players scored for Amherst and four were in double figures.

A three-point play by Green with 7:29 left pushed the Jeffs’ lead to 65-51. The Crusaders never got within 12 points the rest of the way.

Williamson, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, tallied seven points over the final 5:41 to help ensure the win.

“I feel like my whole career ... led up to today and I’m glad it all ended up this way, a great way to finish up a career,” Williamson said.

The Jeffs’ dream weekend will continue as they plan to stay for Monday night’s Division I national championship game at the Georgia Dome between Michigan and Louisville.

But Hixon plans to first treat his 84-year-old father by taking him Monday to Augusta, the site of this week’s Masters Golf Tournament.

Things couldn’t have worked out any better for everybody involved with the Amherst team.

“You know the lights are bright, there’s a lot of people, there’s everyone chanting this way, that way, but we knew the hoop was 10 feet tall, the free throw (line) was 15 feet (from the basket) and we had each other,” Workman said. “It’s been about us all year long and we knew if we stuck together and played as five, everything outside the court wouldn’t matter because it was about us.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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