BENNINGTON, Vt. — The top-seed Southern Vermont College Mountaineers are headed back to the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) men's basketball championship for the second straight year, matching up against No. 3 Becker College for the right to advance to the NCAA Regional Tournament on Saturday.
SVC defeated No. 5 Regis College 73-68 Friday night in a rematch of the 2015 NECC Championship, pulling in front of the Pride in the second half to win the league tournament's first semifinal of the evening played at the Mountaineer Athletic Center. Becker then used a strong run in the first half to go ahead of second-seeded Elms College before closing out the 88-79 victory over the Blazers to set the title pairing.
Southern Vermont and Becker will line up at the MAC on Saturday, tipping-off at 5 p.m. for the crown. The Mountaineers are searching for their program's first NECC Championship in their second trip to the title game while the Hawks are going to the Conference's tournament finals for the fifth time in team history; BC has captured one NECC trophy (2012) while also getting into the NCAA Regionals a second time with an at-large bid in 2011.
Southern Vermont 73 – Regis 68
Regis grabbed the early lead in the night's first semifinal, going up by as many as 13 late in the opening period before taking a 37-30 upper hand into the locker room. SVC went in front for the first time all night with 10:41 left in the second half and pulled ahead to grab a sizable advantage. The Pride fought to the end but fell short, a buzzer-beating three by the visitors making for the final five-point Mountaineer victory over the reigning NECC Champions.
Southern Vermont improves to 23-3 on the year while extending its winning streak to 15 games. Regis ends its 2015-16 campaign with an overall record of 12-15. SVC also takes a 7-6 edge in the all-time series against the Pride, not having won its last three straight meetings with RC and five of the last six.
Mountaineer senior Casey Hall (Albany, N.Y.) tied the game-high of 16 points while pulling down a game and career-best 14 rebounds for his fourth straight double-double and fifth of the season. Junior Rayshawn Taylor (Silver Spring, Md.) came off the bench to score 14 points and grab six boards, and senior DeShawn Hamlet (Hartford, Conn.) had 12 points and 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the year. SVC freshman Josh Borders (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) had five points, five rebounds, and a game-high five assists in the win.
Regis junior Sam Jean-Gilles (Melrose, Mass.) tied Hall's 16 points while adding five rebounds and four assists to his line. RC senior Jordan Monts (Springfield, Mass.) and freshman Ademola Afonja (Staten Island, N.Y.) each had 14 points and six boards on the night as Monts dished out a pair of helpers.
SVC shot 32.8 percent (20-61) from the floor while RC connected on 35.3 percent (24-68) of its field goal attempts. The Pride had great success from deep, going 11-for-24 (45.8 percent) from three-point distance as the Mountaineers were just 5-for-23 (21.7 percent) on long-balls. Southern Vermont owned a strong 56-39 advantage on the glass, using its 20-11 offensive rebound tally to outscore Regis 20-7 in second-chance points. SVC ran the floor well, notching 30 fast-break points to the Pride's two.
Regis won the opening tip and ran the shot clock all the way down before Jean-Gilles connected on a trey with just seconds left, but Hamlet answered soon-after with a triple of his own on the left edge of the arc to tie it up as the battle began. RC got a huge spark when Monts lobbed it up toward the hoop where Afonja was able to grab the pass and slam home the alley-oop, putting the Pride in front 8-3.
A three-ball from RC senior Jeff Tager Jr. (Brockton, Mass.) extended Regis' upper hand to 24-16, and six unanswered Pride points, capped by a jumper from senior Hector Heredia (Lawrence, Mass.), then pushed the lead out to 13 (35-22). SVC closed out the half with a 6-1 spurt, started by a trey at the right edge of the perimeter from sophomore Daemond Carter (Forestville, Md.), sending the game to halftime with the Mountaineers down 37-30.
The two sides traded scores as play resumed before SVC rallied for 12 straight points to tie it at 46-46. Hall made a steal in the Regis end as the Mountaineers applied the press, slamming home an electrifying dunk during that run. Afonja answered with a slam and an ensuing jumper to put his team back in front, only to see Southern Vermont complete a pair of and-one plays to take its first lead of the night at 53-50. Taylor would add six straight points with a downtown bucket and his second old-fashioned three-point play of the half, and a Hall spin move in the lane allowed him to sink a jumper from the key to give SVC the 64-57 upper hand.
Regis notched the next five to inch back, Jean-Gilles banging home a three from the top of the arc to make it a two-point game. Missed shots at both ends of the floor brought the game to the final minute where Southern Vermont went up six with a pair of Taylor free throws. Monts connected on a trey to get Regis back to within five, but SVC took advantage of bonus trips to the line to seal the deal. Monts got a three to go from just over the half-court line as time expired, but it was a meaningless basket as the Mountaineers celebrated their second straight trip to the Conference finals.
Becker 88 – Elms 79
With the score tied 10-10 in the early-going of the nightcap, Becker took to an 11-2 run that gave the Hawks a lead they would never relinquish. BC brought a 40-28 upper hand into the intermission before holding off the Blazers in the final 20 minutes to close out the victory.
Becker improves to 17-10 on the year while Elms falls to 14-12 with the loss.
All five Hawk starters reached double figures in the points column, being led by junior Kyle Credle (Queens, N.Y.) who tallied 18 points to go with his seven rebounds and game-best four assists. BC senior Rashaun Liggon (Elizabeth, N.J.) followed with 16 points while grabbing nine boards and dishing out three assists, and freshman Kareem Davis (Lowell, Mass.) had another 16 points in the win. Sophomore Samuel Durodola (Rosedale, N.Y.) registered 15 points and a team-best 10 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season, and senior Reginald Finney (Ansonia, Conn.) chipped in with 12 points.
Elms senior Jerry Buchanon (Windsor, Conn.) notched a game-high 22 points while adding six rebounds and three assists to his line. Sophomore Devonte Marshall (Springfield, Mass.) had 18 points and six boards, and junior Symon Smith (Oklahoma City, Okla.) scored 16 points on the night. Blazer sophomore Conny Ihearahu (Largo, Md.) recorded 11 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds for the double-double.
Becker shot at 46.7 percent (28-60) from the floor as EC connected on 38.3 percent (31-81) of its field goal attempts. BC grabbed a slim 48-41 edge on the boards and topped Elms 10-9 in second-chance points. The Blazers committed only five turnovers on the night to outscore the Hawks 13-4 in points off turnovers, and EC had a 46-30 advantage in points from the paint.
Neither side could pull away as the contest began, Finney banking home a jumper for a 10-8 Hawk lead before Ihearahu answered on the next trip down the floor to tie things. Becker would then take to an 11-2 run, however, Durodola making an acrobatic, scooping shot in that stretch for BC to go up comfortably. Davis then knocked down a three-pointer from nearly 10 feet behind the arc to put his team on top at 25-16, but Elms kept its distance as Buchanon swished home a jumper from the top of the key to make it a 30-20 Becker lead.
The Hawks tallied the next five points with two coming when sophomore Nafis Streeter (Philadelphia, Pa.) got a pretty reverse layup to go off the glass, and the teams traded scores down the stretch of the half before Buchanon registered the final two baskets in the period to send the Blazers into the break down 40-28.
Elms came out of halftime with momentum, Marshall baking home a jumper from the left side to open up a 10-3 Blazer run that cut their deficit down to five. Liggon then got nothing-but-net on a 15-footer at the 14:01 mark to give Becker the 47-40 lead, starting a 10-2 BC spurt that put the Hawks back in front by 13 (55-42). Davis and Credle then teamed up for back-to-back threes from the left side of the perimeter to extend the Hawks' separation.
Becker maintained its distance down the stretch until Elms started to chip away in the final minutes, cutting it down to a 77-72 BC lead with 1:08 left to go. Forced to foul, however, EC's comeback was spoiled by an 11-for-12 Hawk performance at the charity stripe in the final minute as Becker's free throw shooting helped finish out the semifinal victory and earn a spot for the Hawks in Saturday's championship game.