The 3-point numbers scream for attention. Two players on Williams have made 80 or more shots from beyond the arc this season. As a team, the Ephs have made 323 treys and are shooting 38.9 percent from long range.
Yet, if you think Williams lives and dies by the 3-point shot, think again. The Ephs actually focus on scoring inside first. Junior guard James Wang, who has drilled 80 treys this season, will tell you as much.
“Shooting 3-pointers is not what our offense is all about,” Wang said. “We actually try to go inside as much as possible because we have such good post play, and if we happen to get the ball back outside, we’ll do our best to knock down shots.”
The Ephs, the 2010 national runner-up, have executed that game plan to near perfection. They come into their NCAA Division III semifinals matchup against Wooster on Friday at the Salem Civic Center in Virginia with a 29-2 record and the No. 4 ranking in the nation.
Williams punched its ticket to Salem by prevailing 77-71 in a tough sectional final matchup against Amherst last weekend, weathering several rally attempts to secure the win and return to the Final Four for the second consecutive season.
“It has been an incredible ride,” Williams head coach Mike Maker said. “To be able to go to back-to-back Final Fours, especially after losing seven seniors, is not an easy thing to do. I don’t think we were expected to go very far in the tournament. It’s a big accomplishment to be here.”
Senior center Troy Whittington echoed those thoughts.
“It’s amazing to be back here,” Whittington said. “We put in a lot of hard work to have a chance to come this far, and it shows you that hard work pays off,”
Whittington has played a pivotal role in the success of the offense, which is putting up 81.7 points per outing. The standout post player is dropping in 16.7 points per game and is grabbing nine rebounds per outing. He is shooting just over 70 percent from the floor and has blocked 59 shots.
Because Whittington has such a strong presence in the paint, it opens the door for the shooters on the perimeter to get good looks at the basket.
“No one on the team is selfish,” Whittington said. “We always go inside-out with our offense, and it makes by job easy because there are good players around me. I have never had any reservations about passing the ball. If there is an open man, I’ll pass it.”
Wang is the team’s leading scorer. He is pouring in 18.5 ppg while sophomore guard James Klemm is clicking for 11.1 points per outing. Klemm nailed five treys in the win over Amherst and has knocked down 89 on the season.
Sophomore guard Nate Robertson is pumping in 7.7 ppg and has dished out 94 assists. But it was Robertson that rose to the occasion in the win over Amherst, torching the Lord Jeffs for 22 points. Klemm (17), Wang (15) and Whittington (10) also scored in double figures in the win.
“It’s a luxury to have so many different players that can step up,” Wang said. “We force teams to pick their poison because of our balance.”
Williams has also been tough defensively, giving up 62.7 points per outing.
Yet, while the Ephs have been in this position before, they will be quick to tell you that this road to the Final Four has had a different feel to it.
“It’s definitely been a different journey,” Wang said. “We lost a lot of good players from last year’s team and have had a tough road here. We’ve dealt with injuries but we have overcome them and have had a lot of things go right for right for us. That is a testament to our team chemistry and our effort.”
Williams won its first 13 games this season before suffering a 92-89 loss to Amherst in overtime. The Ephs are currently riding a four-game win streak.
Williams is making its 12th trip to the NCAA tournament. The Ephs have won three of their four games in the postseason by less than 10 points and are looking for their first national championship since 2003.
“We have come through a tough bracket, beating two heavyweights in Virginia Wesleyan and Amherst, and we are proud to be here again,” Maker said. “It doesn’t get any easier this weekend playing a team like Wooster, but we want to go out and represent our school and play as best as we can.”