Amherst handles Mary Hardin-Baylor for Division III crown
ATLANTA -- Willy Workman is getting a ring and, chances are, it’s going to fit.
Before every season, Amherst men’s basketball head coach Dave Hixon has his players fill out a form that asks about their biggest fears. This year, Workman had a simple answer.
“Willy wrote down his biggest fear was that the guy at the ring factory would get his size wrong,” Hixon said, as Workman, sitting next to coach, grinned and knew what was coming.
The ring is on its way alright, and it isn’t just any ring. It’ll be an NCAA Division III national championship ring, after Amherst pounded Mary Hardin-Baylor 87-70 on Sunday.
The title is the second of Hixon’s career, and first since 2007. Hixon has been at the helm of his alma mater since 1977, just two years after his graduation.
“It’s really special, naturally, but I’ve never been a guy that worries too much about trophies,” Hixon said. “I’m at Amherst because I love the kids I get a chance to coach. If somebody said to me, ‘Why are you at Amherst?’ I would say that all you need to do is spend a season in my shoes and you’d understand.”
Amherst took control almost from the opening tipoff, pumping in 3-pointers, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, whatever it took to establish itself on the court. With two weeks to prepare, Amherst had tried to become as familiar with their upcoming opponent as possible.
The plan worked.
“We had two weeks off to prepare for this team, so we really watched a lot of the three or four games that we had available,” said Amherst’s Allen Williamson, who topped the Lord Jeffs with 18 points. “We tried to know what their tendencies were, so that really made a difference. We were able to take away their No. 1 primary moves. I think it frustrated them a little.”
Getting ahead early established the tone of the game for both teams, with Amherst leading by as much as 19 points at one time. Just when it threatened to get really ugly for Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Crusaders -- the Cru, for short -- closed to within eight at the half, 38-30. Just after the half the Jeffs' lead shrunk to as little as just four.
“It’s funny how games are,” Hixon said. “I expected it to be pretty tight the whole way through. I was really happy we had the cushion, because what they’ve done, they’ve come back in every game. I don’t think any lead is comfortable with them, so I’m just absolutely delighted the way we came out of the gate [Sunday].”
The last 20 minutes were more of the same. Every time the Cru appeared ready to make a run, Amherst pulled right back out to a comfortable advantage.
Mary Hardin-Baylor had earned a well-deserved reputation for making furious comebacks, but it just wasn’t meant to be this time around. Amherst slowly but surely widened the gap against the Purple and Gold.
Headed from the court to the locker room after the game, Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Ken DeWeese threw his arm around guard James Allen and hugged him like a father would. Afterward, DeWeese was emotional in describing his squad.
“These guys have my total respect,” DeWeese began. “I’m still learning. Next year will be my 44th year, and I doubt seriously I’ll ever have another group of guys that will capture …”
With that, DeWeese stopped, his voice choked with emotion.
“Who really captured my heart,” he continued, after taking several seconds to compose himself.
“For a guy with my experience and years, it’s hard to put into words what it’s like to work every day with a bunch of young men like this bunch of guys,” he concluded.
In the end, DeWeese figured that some of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s comeback mojo had worn away. The Cru’s offense was off track, he continued, but the defense was pretty much where he wanted it to be.
“We did not play well offensively [Sunday],” he said. “We were uncharacteristically tight offensively, but we gave Amherst 40.8 [field-goal percentage]. I thought if we could keep them at 40 or below, that we would be fine. I think if we had shot it a little bit more normal, we would’ve been in a whole lot different basketball game. It was just one of those times we had short arms and it won’t go in.”