Amherst notches first D-III basketball championship

Updated: March 17, 2007, 8:53 PM ET
Associated Press

SALEM, Va. -- Amherst is heading back home with a trophy and a title.

Andrew Olson scored 15 points and Brian Baskauskas added 14 to lead Amherst to its first NCAA Division III title with an 80-67 victory over defending champion Virginia Wesleyan on Saturday night.

Amherst (30-2), which lost in the semifinals in two of the least three years, led almost throughout and built its lead as high as 20 twice in the second half.

"There's a big difference between waking up Saturday morning knowing you're playing in a consolation game and waking up knowing you're playing for a championship," senior Dan Wheeler said. "It's a lot easier to get fired up and get focused."

Wheeler added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Tim McLaughlin and Kevin Hopkins each scored 12 points for the Lord Jeffs.

"We did an unbelievable job defensively," Amherst coach David Hixon said.

TonTon Balenga scored 19 points and Brandon Adair added 17 for the Marlins (28-5), who were within 10 three times in the second half, but could get no closer.

"I thought we were just out of sync," Marlins coach Dave Macedo said. "We couldn't get in a rhythm at times."

The Lord Jeffs, who led 39-28 at halftime, were up 62-42 after a tip-in by Baskauskas with 10:08 remaining. It was 68-48 with 7:28 to go before the Marlins made one last rally.

But unlike last year, when Balenga's shot with 2 seconds to play against Wittenberg gave Virginia Wesleyan its first national title, there were no late heroics this time.

"They were able to execute today," Balenga said. "They were the better team."

Earlier Saturday, Tyler Nading scored 22 points and Sean Wallis added 21 to lead Washington University to a 92-84 victory over Wooster in the third-place game.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press