Members of the Colby College men’s basketball team, including, left to right seated, Jonah Obi, Alec McGovern and Will King, react to the NCAA Division III tournament brackets during a watch party Monday on campus in Waterville. Colby will play Christopher Newport University of Newport News, Virginia, on Friday in Hoboken, New Jersey. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

 

WATERVILLE — When he was a freshman on the Colby College men’s basketball team, Sam Jefferson and the Mules won just one New England Small College Athletic Conference game and just 10 games overall.

Now that Jefferson and the other remaining members of that recruiting class — Ty Williams, Alex Dorion, Ethan Schlager, and Dean Weiner — are seniors, things have changed.

“It’s been great to see how our program has turned around over the last four years. It means a lot, especially to us seniors, to have been a big part of that,” Jefferson, a captain, said after the Mules watched the selection show in the trophy room adjacent to Wadsworth Gymnasium. “This tournament run is going to be the culmination of that for us. We’re really excited.”

Colby College guard Wallace Tucker nibbles on some pizza while watching as the NCAA Division III tournament brackets are announced during a watch party Monday on campus. Morning Sentinel photo by photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

For the first time in 23 years, the Colby College men’s basketball team is in the NCAA Division III tournament. Early Monday afternoon, the Mules learned they will travel to Hoboken, New Jersey, for a first round game against Christopher Newport University at 4 p.m. Friday.

“That group came in and took over for our first recruiting class. We had seven seniors that graduated, so they came in and had a chance to play right away,” Colby head coach Damien Strahorn said of the current seniors. “They certainly went through some lumps, but they’ve done it the right way. I’m incredibly proud of how hard they’ve worked and how they’ve come together… For us in college basketball, this is what it’s all about. To get into the 64-team field and have a chance to go compete against the very best across the country.”

Colby (24-3) and Christopher Newport (21-6), a school in Newport News, Virginia, have a limited history with each other, Strahorn said.

“My first year at Colby (the 2000-2001 season), when I transferred here, we went down and played them in their invitational over the New Year’s break,” Strahorn said of Christopher Newport. “I know they’ve had a great program for a while. A final four team a year ago, so it will be a good challenge for us.”

A win over Christopher Newport sets up a second-round game Saturday against either host Stevens Institute of Technology or Nichols College.

Colby climbed as high as No. 5 in the nation in the d3hoops.com weekly poll in the regular season. Ranked No. 12 in the latest poll, the Mules earned an at large bid to the tournament with a 24-3 record. On Sunday, the Mules lost to Tufts in the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship game, 102-94 in double overtime. The Mules trailed by 17 points late in the first half, before a second half rally gave them a brief lead.

Jefferson suffered an ankle injury in Colby’s 78-74 win over Hamilton on Feb. 7. Colby’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game, Jefferson missed the final four games of the regular season, and saw limited action in the NESCAC tournament. Jefferson played one minute in the 102-94 triple overtime win over Bates in the quarterfinals. Jefferson played five minutes in Saturday’s 65-61 semifinal win over Amherst, and 24 minutes Sunday against Tufts, making his first shot since the one on which he was hurt versus Hamilton.

“It’s getting better, slowly. I need to keep figuring out what I can contribute to the team,” Jefferson said.

Colby mens’ basketball coach Damien Strahorn, back, and players watch as the NCAA Division III tournament brackets are revealed during a watch party Monday on campus. Morning Sentinel photo by photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Colby was one of the final teams announced in Monday’s selection show, which began at 12:20 p.m. and was broadcast on the NCAA’s web page. Reaction was subdued. Early in the show, when conference rival Middlebury was announced playing on the road at Brockport (NY) State, Mules applauded, hoping that opened a spot for them to host the first two rounds.

“We thought it was going to be either Middlebury or us hosting. A great part of this group is we’ve gone on the road won big games. Earlier this year at Middlebury, going back to last year and the Amherst-Hamilton trip, and certainly this past weekend down at Tufts, playing Amherst,” Strahorn said.

Added Jefferson: “It would have been cool to host. We went down to Jersey early in the year, took care of business, and got two wins (over New Jersey City College and Kean). We’re hoping to be able to do the same thing and move on from there. It would have been nice to host a game here, seeing the crowd that came out for our NESCAC playoff game, but we’re confident no matter where we’re going.”

Going on the road means the triple overtime thriller over Bates was the final game the Mules will play in Wadsworth Gym. Next season, the team moves into the new athletic center currently under construction.

“For me, the biggest disappointment is in the last year of our athletic facility and all the history and amazing alumni and group that’s a part of Colby basketball history, it would have been a lot of fun to have one more time to play in this facility,” Strahorn said. “Once you get past that, you go play wherever you’re told to go play, and you’ve got to find a way to win the game.”

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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