The Mountaineers traditionally make the trip to Williamstown, Mass. for the annual Williams Tip-off Tournament in the purple-laden Chandler Gymnasium. With Williams granted the opportunity to host the NCAA DIII Women's Volleyball Regional Championship, this year's start to the season was moved another six miles to the east to Mass. College of Liberal Arts.
SVC's victory gives first-year head coach Dan Engelstad his first collegiate win as a head coach. "Our guys believed tonight," commented Engelstad. "We knew they were going to make a run, and we responded well. We made some big plays down the stretch and stuck together to pull out the win."
What's in a preseason ranking and those much-hyped coaches polls? Well, Coach Engelstad and his crew, listed at No. 394 by the Bennett Ranking (there are 414 DIII men's basketball programs) and picked to finish eighth in the nine-team New England Collegiate Conference, used those presumptions as motivation since the first day of working together back on October 15. They didn't allow the No. 3 selection of Williams (0-1) by D3Hoops.com to intimidate them, but rather took it as an extra push to show the country the Mountaineers (1-0) are more than expected. The team, containing 11 players new to the SVC campus, came together quickly, working hard on and off the court to gel as a unit capable of doing what many would consider 'impossible.'
Congratulating the team, Southern Vermont President Karen Gross said, "This team exemplifies SVC's deep belief in our students' capacity to succeed. They learned to play together, and that is a skill noteworthy in athletics and in life. Play as a team. Study as a team. And take negative media and use it to push forward. That's the great positive environment that is part of SVC."
The proverbial 'sixth man' was in full force, almost creating a home-game atmosphere for SVC. The newly dubbed "MAC Pack" made its way down to solidly fill a section of the MCLA gymnasium, accompanied by faculty, staff, and even Detroit high school students and their parents who were visiting as prospective SVC applicants in the Mountaineer Scholar program; they quickly became Southern Vermont fans, bombarding the sideline with enthusiastic applause and thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to witness history. Southern Vermont went on a 6-1 run in the final minute as the Mountaineer crowd stood with restless hands, awaiting the opportunity to sprint across the parquet in celebration.
After Southern Vermont jumped out to the early lead, the Ephs began to take over behind Daniel Wohl (La Canada, Calif.), who scored 14 of the Ephs' first 23 points including 14-of-16 between 16:43 and 14:37. Wohl hit a baseline three-pointer to give the Ephs the 20-12 lead nearly eight minutes into the half. After Southern Vermont was unable to convert out of a timeout, he added another long ball from the top-of-the-key to make it 23-12. The Mountaineers, however, got back in the game with a finish in the paint from sophomore DeShawn Hamlet (Hartford, Conn.) and a long-ball from freshman Rayshawn Taylor (Silver Spring, Md).
After Taylor took a charge for the Mountaineers, sophomore Dolapo Olugbile (Laurel, Md.) finished inside. However, Taylor Epley (Louisville, Ky.) made a pair of free throws to push the Eph lead back to seven at 26-19, but Olugbile finished inside and was fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw to cut the lead to four before freshman Davante Jordan (Great Mills, Md.) finished off of an Eph turnover to cut it to 26-24 just over halfway through the first period.
Following a 1-for-2 performance from the line by Wohl, the Mountaineers tied the game up at 29-all with 7:57 left to play on a put-back from Hamlet. He was fouled on the play and converted the three-point opportunity. Sophomore Antoine White (Germantown, Md.) gave the Mountaineers the 31-29 lead with a pretty floater before Epley hit a pair of free throws to tie the game back up at 31-all. With the shot clock winding down, White drove to the hoop and finished to gain the lead again, but the Mountaineers sent the Ephs back to the line on the ensuing possession. Hayden Rooke-Ley (Eugene, Ore.) hit both opportunities from the charity space.
The two teams traded hoops for much of the rest of the half, but the Mountaineers looked like they might take a decisive lead going into halftime. With two minutes left on the clock, junior Travis Severs (Bennington, Vt.) banked a long-ball from the top left part of the key to give the Mountaineers the 45-40 lead. Junior Izzy Melton (Silver Spring, Md.) then went 1-for-2 from the line to push the lead to six. Wohl responded yet again for the Ephs; after missing an open three, he hustled under the basket. Wohl was credited with the offensive board, and he finished the layup in traffic to make it 46-42 with less than a minute left. Neither team was able to score in the remaining time, and the Mountaineers entered the locker room with the four-point lead.
Wohl led the way for both teams in the opening frame with 19 points for the Ephs. Hamlet was the only Mountaineer in double digits with 11.
White started off the second half with a finish in the paint for Southern Vermont, but Michael Mayer (Durham, N.C.) responded with one of his own on the ensuing Eph possession. Olugbile hit a long three from the top of the key to push the lead to seven. Mayer then responded for the Ephs with a finish inside. He was fouled and converted the three-point play to cut the lead to 51-47. After Wohl went 1-for-2 from the charity space, Duncan Robinson (New Castle, N.H.) nailed a three-ball from the left corner to tie the game up at 51-all just over two and a half minutes into the second half. Freshman Eddie Mack III (Hartford, Conn.) responded for the Mountaineers with a three-ball of his own, but Robinson hit another to keep the game all tied up.
After trading hoops for several minutes, the Ephs finally took the lead at 65-62 with a three-ball from Wohl at the 13:53 mark. In response, Olugbile finished inside for the Mountaineers. Mayer finished a put-back to give the Ephs the three-point lead, but they were unable to expand it as Olugbile backed down his defender in the paint for a bucket. Melton went 1-for-2 from the line to tie the game up at 67-67 with9:33 left to play. After an Eph turnover, Hamlet caught his defender in the air and drove baseline. He made the little pass to Melton, who finished the layup to take back the lead for the Mountaineers. Epley responded for the Ephs with a layup of his own.
After the two teams traded hoops, the Ephs started to take over with an 11-0 run beginning at the 7:57 mark with a layup from Mayer. The rest of the run consisted of a layup apiece from Wohl and Mayer and a pretty put-back from Robinson. Robinson then went 1-for-2 from the line, and Epley added a pair of free throws before Hamlet ended the Ephs' run with a nice layup off of an inbound pass from under the basket with 3:57 left to play.
The Mountaineers rallied with 2:30 on the clock. With the Ephs up 83-75, Taylor knocked down a three before finishing a jumper from the elbow to cut the lead to three. On the ensuing possession, Olugbile had a huge block on Mayer, but the Ephs got the ball out of bounds. Rooke-Ley missed an open three, but Robinson collected the loose ball and passed inside to Mayer who was fouled on the shot. Mayer went 1-for-2 from the charity space to give the Ephs the 84-80 lead with 1:15 left in the game. Taylor hit a pair of free throws for the Mountaineers, but Rooke-Ley calmly hit a pair of his own to keep the Ephs up four.
Despite the four-point deficit, the Mountaineers continued to push. Taylor finished in the paint, and the Ephs couldn't convert on their next possession, giving the Mountaineers a chance to tie up the game, which they did with a pair of free throws from Hamlet with 27 second to play. However, they fouled the Ephs on the inbound play. Rooke-Ley went 1-for-2 from the line, leaving the Ephs with just a one-point lead and the Mountaineers with the chance for the final possession. Hamlet drove to the hoop for two and missed but got his own offensive rebound and was fouled. He calmly went to the line for two with three seconds on the clock and made them both.
The Ephs called a timeout to work up their final play. Wohl took the ball out of bounds for the Ephs and attempted to throw it the length of the court. His pass hit the ceiling, resulting in a Mountaineer possession instead. Freshman Brandon Casella (Pittsfield, Mass.) was fouled on the inbound play and went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. He missed the front end but hustled to get the rebound, which went out of bounds off of his leg. The Ephs' attempt at an in-bound pass went off the ceiling yet again, and the Mountaineers held the ball for the final second before the SVC faithful rushed the court.
Leading the way for Mountaineers was Hamlet who had 19 off the bench. Olugbile added 16, and Taylor and Melton added 12 and 10, respectively. The Mountaineers shot 50.7% in the game. White finished with eight points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Wohl led all scorers with 30 points; he narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds. Mayer recorded a double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds. First-year Robinson went 5-for-6 from the field for 13 points, and Epley rounded out the double-digits club with 13 of his own. The Ephs were 50.0% from the field on the night.
The Mountaineers continue the class-style tournament Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip against the University of Rutgers-Newark, also being played at MCLA, while Williams concludes event with a 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening tilt at home versus Salem State University.