SALEM, Va. – Allen Williamson had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Amherst College to a 52-44 victory over North Central College on Saturday night in the NCAA Division III semifinals.
The Lord Jeffs (29-2), the Division III national champions in 2007, advanced to the title game against Mary Hardin-Baylor at Philips Arena in Atlanta on April 7. Mary Hardin-Baylor beat St. Thomas 74-67.
Amherst won despite missing its first 13 shots to start the second half and shooting 31.3 percent (15 of 48). The Cardinals used a 10-0 run to start the second half to take the lead, but couldn't sustain it largely because of their own poor shooting - 28.6 percent from the floor (16 of 56).
"Both teams set the game back scoring wise a little bit," Amherst coach David Hixon said. "Boy, was it a physical game? I don't think we even got a look at the basket to begin that second half. They're a good defensive team, and I think we're a good defensive team.
"This was a gut check. I think we've been winning games because of mental toughness and tonight was a mental toughness game."
Williamson provided the toughness offensively to carry the Lord Jeffs. He scored two baskets during a modest 7-2 Amherst run to give the Lord Jeffs a 46-40 lead, and he ended up scoring eight of his team's final 13 points.
"We were really struggling to find the hoop," Williamson said. "I was really just trying to get offensive boards. We were missing a lot of shots, and I was trying to get us some second-chance points. I just tried to stay aggressive and go to the rack."
North Central College (28-4) got 20 points from Landon Gamble. No other player reached double figures.
The Lord Jeffs will be going for their second national championship under Hixon, who has been the coach at his alma mater for 36 seasons. He refused to compare this team to the 2007 group, other than to joke, "This team is better looking. That's all you're getting from me."
"The first thing we did the first day of practice was look up at the wall and see the banner up there (from the 2007 national title)," he added. "Then we look from there and we saw that there was space for another banner. We thought, 'Wouldn't that be nice?' This is the horse I'm happy to be riding going to Atlanta."