Mariners look to make more history tonight

Mitchell College's never-been-done list stretched considerably just a few weeks ago.

The Mariners gradually checked out some major items first New England Collegiate Conference men's basketball regular season title, first conference tournament championship and first NCAA Division III tournament berth.

Now they're aiming for the school's first NCAA victory tonight when they visit Williams College at 8 p.m. in a first round game in Williamstown, Mass.

"I think we have what it takes," senior Joshua Ford said. "We have nothing to lose. They have all the pressure on them. This is our first time and we're just going to show the rest of the world that we can compete with anyone."

Of course, that's much easier said than done.

Ninth-ranked Williams (23-4) is a Division III powerhouse and NCAA tournament veteran. In 13 previous trips, the Ephs have a 36-12 record, reached six Final Fours and won a national championship in 2003. Three of their four losses came against defending national champion Amherst, including in the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship game.

Mitchell (19-7) can draw hope from the fact that fellow NECC member, Southern Vermont, beat Williams, 88-87, in the season opener and Connecticut College only lost 98-90. The Mariners dropped the regular season series to Southern Vermont and defeated the Camels this season.

"We look at it as the door is wide open and we've got to push through that door and see what happens," senior Alex Del Rio said. "We're very confident going into the game."

It will take Mitchell's best effort of the season to pull off the monumental upset.

Coach Todd Peretz put the match-up in perspective.

"If you look at it from a Division I standpoint, we're probably a 15 or 16 seed and they're a one," Peretz said.

Mitchell will face a potent offensive team that averages 83.7 points. All-NESCAC first team selection Michael Mayer, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center, leads a balanced attack, averaging team highs in points (17.9) and rebounds (8.0). Duncan Robinson (16.7 points), the NESCAC rookie of the year, is the top perimeter threat.

The Ephs rank first in the NESCAC in 3-point shooting (40 percent) and 3-pointers per game (9.6). They're blessed with size, with four starters at 6-4 or taller.

Mitchell's frontcourt of Ford, Parris Hill and Anthony Epps all check in at 6-4, so the Mariners will be at considerable height disadvantage.

"We've got to pick our spots and try to find the positives and focus on that and where we can be successful," Peretz said.

The dynamic duo of Ford (22.7 points, 12.4 rebounds) and Hill (20.9, 10.7) will need to deliver their usual star performances for the Mariners to have a shot.

Peretz isn't worried about his players being intimidated despite the odds.

"There's never going to be an ulcer with this group," Peretz said. "They don't seem to worry about too much except for what's going on that night and where they're all going and where they're getting food from."

Mitchell will face an additional challenge tonight in the form of a rabid pro-Williams crowd. The Mariners believe capturing the NECC Championship at Elms College proved that they're capable of winning a big postseason game on the road.

"From what I hear, they have 2,000 something plus fans," Ford said. "We've just got to stay together and keep cool, run our offense and play defense and rebound."

In the first game of tonight's NCAA doubleheader, Gordon College (17-10) plays Babson College (20-6). Friday's two winners will meet at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Williams.

g.keefe@theday.com

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