WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Williams College men's basketball team is heading south for spring break.
Taylor Epley's 3-point basket with 4:12 left helped key a late run by the Ephs, who rallied from a second-half deficit to beat Virginia Wesleyan 84-75 before a standing-room only crowd at Chandler Gym Saturday night. The win punches Williams' ticket to the Division III Elite Eight on Friday in Salem, Va.
"We've had to come back to beat Wesley, Catholic and Virginia Wesleyan," said Williams coach Mike Maker.
Epley finished with a game-high 26 points and was one of four Ephs to score in double figures. Michael Mayer had 23 points, Nate Robertson had 16 and James Klemm chipped in with 13.
"Not a lot of people had us getting this far," said Maker. "They believe in each other. We have a highly competitive team."
Both Epley and Klemm went over the 1,000-point mark with their performances on Saturday night.
"[Williams] made big plays down the stretch," said Virginia Wesleyan coach Dave Macedo. "That's what it came down to."
The Ephs will play the winner of Saturday's game between Calvin and St. Thomas.
Williams was the third NESCAC team in a Sweet 16 game, and took the court after Amherst and Middlebury both won to head for Salem.
The Ephs led 40-39 at halftime, took an early punch from the Marlins and fell behind 48-43 just 3 minutes into the second half. Maker called a quick timeout, and out of the break, the Ephs went on an 8-0 run to get back on top.
Virginia Wesleyan led by as many as eight points later in the second half, but couldn't put the Ephs away.
Trailing 68-63, the Williams defense started getting some stops and the Eph offense got efficient. A 16-4 run gave the Ephs a 7-point lead with 1:33 to play.
The key plays of the run were a dunk by Mayer off a pick and roll with Robertson with 5:00 left. That gave the crowd of 1,300 a jolt. After a Virginia Wesleyan miss, Mayer set up Epley for a 3-point basket to make it 72-70 for Williams.
While the Marlins tied the score on the next possession, Epley scored five unanswered points, and the momentum was with the Ephs.
"I think we're a team of runs in many ways," said Epley. "We're very consistent, but we can score -- especially from 3 -- back-to-back-to-back. You could definitely feel [the momentum]."
The Williams defense held Virginia Wesleyan to one basket in the final three minutes to ice the victory.
Williams opened the first half like it was going to make quick work of the Marlins. The Ephs scored the first seven points of the game and with five minutes gone, were up 17-6. Michael Mayer's second consecutive 3-point basket gave Williams the 11-point lead and had the capacity crowd in Chandler rocking.
But Colby Heard, who came into the game averaging 6 points per game, helped get Virginia Wesleyan back in the game by scoring six straight points. His last four started a 10-2 run that got the visitors from Norfolk back in the game.
Virginia Wesleyan tied the game for the first time on a hoop by Heard with 9:42 left.
The rest of the first half was back-and-forth. Virginia Wesleyan led by as many as 3 points while Williams led by as many as 4.
Robertson, who had 11 points in the first half, got his final three on a drive to the basket with 17.9 seconds left and completed the 3-point play.