WATERVILLE – What this? A raucous student section? At Colby?

”Like the old days,” Colby Coach Dick Whitmore said.

The fans were loud, and the Colby men’s basketball team gave them reason to be. The Mules played some of their best defense of the season, holding Amherst to eight points over the final 10 minutes to take a 67-49 New England Small College Athletic Conference quarterfinal win.

As the final buzzer sounded, a number of Colby students ran across the court to congratulate the Mules.

”Definitely the best turnout we’ve had all year. They definitely kept the energy going,” said Colby forward Mike Russell, who scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. ”We got off to a tough start. Knowing they were here behind us helped us stay up the entire game.”

Third-seeded Colby (19-5) will face No. 2 Middlebury (22-2) Saturday in the semifinals in Williamstown, Mass. Top seed Williams (24-1) will take on No. 4 Bates (14-11). Amherst’s season ends at 14-11.

Ahead 29-26 at the half, Colby saw the Lord Jeffs take a brief 35-31 lead early in the second half. That’s when the defensive clamps came down. The Mules went on a 9-0 run, taking the lead for good on a Russell layup with 14:19 left.

The Mules held Amherst to 38.8 percent shooting from the field, including 1 for 13 from 3-point range. The Lord Jeffs were just 9 for 28 in the second half. Leading scorer Steve Wheeler was held to two points, and Jeff Holmes, another strong offensive player for Amherst, had just six.

”(Adam) Choice shut their third-leading scorer down to nothing. Justin Sherman on Wheeler, I don’t know if he got a basket. That’s a guy averaging 15 points a game,” Whitmore said. ”I was just so proud of the total effort. Christian (Van Loenen) was great, (Eric) Beaulieu was great off the bench. I thought Justin Sherman really stepped up in the second half.”

Russell scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, when the Mules pounded the ball inside. Gil Haylon (15 points) hit three 3-pointers in the first half, which kept the Lord Jeffs from jamming up the paint in the second.

Sherman added 11 points for the Mules.