BANGOR, Maine. — Top-seeded Southern Vermont College concluded a historic season Sunday afternoon, defeating Fitchburg State University 71-69 to win the 2015 Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III New England Men's Basketball Championship played at Husson University.
"We knew it was a great opportunity to keep playing," second year SVC head coach Dan Engelstad said of the tournament. "We told the guys at the beginning of the year that we wanted to continue our season into March, and we did. I couldn't be more proud of this team, especially the seniors. It's very rare to win your last game, and it's hard to do; our guys can say that we are one of four DIII teams to make it to the playoffs and finish the season with a win. It's truly a great step for our program."
The title is the first ECAC Championship for any SVC team, coming in the third appearance for a Mountaineer squad. It also allows Southern Vermont to finish the season with a 25-4 overall record, the best ever in the program's 25-year history; that tops the 24-6 mark set by the 2002-03 team coached by Ryan Marks, also giving this year's crew a better winning percentage (.862) than that of any team before it. Third-seeded FSU wraps up the season with a 16-12 overall record.
"[The wins record] was something we knew was as stake, and we were all hungry to achieve it," continued Engelstad. "It speaks a lot to this team's character, especially winning on back-to-back days. It was great to see them all grind it out, and it's great for our seniors. I'm happy for them, but it's awesome to know that the core group of the guys will be coming back next year, looking to push the bar even higher."
After a spectacular couple of days, Southern Vermont junior William Bromirski (Cambridge, New York) was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. He scored 13 points Sunday, adding a steal to his effort. "Will deserved to be MVP," noted Engelstad. "He played great the last month of our season, and it was tremendous to see him play with confidence. He's persevered after going through a rough patch; to see him get to here makes me a proud coach, and I'm excited to have him back next year."
SVC junior DeShawn Hamlet (Hartford, Connecticut) tallied a game-best 18 points in the win, adding a team-best nine rebounds to his line. Classmate Casey Hall (Albany, New York) provided 13 points, eight boards, two assists, two steals and a pair of blocks while fellow junior and captain Antoine White (Bethesda, Maryland) dished out four assists to go with four rebounds and seven points. Sophomore Nate Goldsmith (Seat Pleasant, Maryland) chipped in with 10 points and four rebounds in reserve time for the Mountaineers.
Sunday's numbers helped crack and expand upon the SVC record books as Southern Vermont finished the season with nearly every historical category getting altered. Hamlet's points in the Championship gave him 542 for the year, the fourth-most seen by a Mountaineer in a single campaign; he also finishes his junior season with 1,140 career points, putting him at seventh on the all-time SVC record list. White registered 101 assists on the year, the third-most in a single season, to make him the program's all-time leader with 218 in just two years. Hall absolutely shattered the previous single season block record of 53 with 78 this year, putting him already at fourth on the career blocks list after his first season at SVC. Senior captain Dolapo Olugbile (Laurel, Maryland) added another 30 blocks this year for him to rank fourth for a Southern Vermont player in a single season. Bromirski's three triples on Sunday gave him 72 for the year, the third-most accumulated by a Mountaineer in one season. Hamlet finished the 2014-15 campaign with a 273-375 clip at the free throw line, giving him the second-best percentage from the stripe in SVC history (78.3); he currently has a 72.8 percent success rate at the line for his career, making him second for a Mountaineer with at least 250 attempts in a collegiate tenure.
The Falcons were led on Sunday by junior Kwame Lee (Brockton, Massachusetts) who tallied 16 points to go with a game-best 10 rebounds for the double-double. Classmate Givaughn Jones (Dorchester, Massachusetts) added 13 points, six boards and three assists while sophomore Leonny Burgos (Lawrence, Massachusetts) provided a game-high five assists to accompany his 10 points and two steals.
FSU recorded a 48.1 field goal percentage (26-54) while Southern Vermont was right behind at 41.3 percent (26-63). The Falcons saw a lot of success from three-point range, going 9-19 (47.4 percent), while SVC hit on 6-of-16 long-range shots (37.5 percent). The Mountaineers owned a sizable 42-29 edge in rebounds and outscored Fitchburg in second-chance points by an 11-2 margin. FSU held a slight 16-14 advantage in turnovers and used those takeaways to top SVC 24-15 in points off turnovers.
Bromirski's first trey of the game put Southern Vermont on top 7-4 in the early going, but the Falcons answered with eight straight points to grab the upper hand. FSU would then heat up from beyond the arc, drilling three shots from deep on straight trips down the floor. The Falcons were able to hold Southern Vermont scoreless in that time to take their biggest lead of the day at 23-12 with 10:52 to go in the first.
The Mountaineers battled back with a 10-3 run, but FSU responded with seven unanswered points to maintain its advantage; at one point in the contest, five straight Falcon scores came by way of a triple. However, a Bromirski bucket from downtown started an 8-0 SVC run that closed the gap to 33-30 with just under three minutes to go in the period. Fitchburg was able to get the last basket of the half for the 37-32 lead going to the break.
Hamlet came out of the locker room and put the Mountaineers on his back, scoring nine of the first 11 SVC points as the two teams traded blows. Olugbile was able to finish off an and-one play to tie the game at 46-46, but a three-ball by FSU junior Anthony Muccioli (Nashua, New Hampshire) put his team back on top. A Southern Vermont offensive board allowed Goldsmith to knock down a three of his own to put SVC in front, and he added another 34 seconds later for the 54-52 Mountaineer lead. After Muccioli answered with a trey on the ensuing possession, Southern Vermont scored six unanswered points for a 60-55 cushion.
Following the midpoint of the second half, scoring became scarce as neither side could put the ball through the rim for over three and a half minutes. Finally, Burgos got the scoreboard moving with a layup, but Bromirski drilled a jumper to keep SVC on top. Jones converted on just one-of-two free throws to make it a 63-60 Southern Vermont advantage, but Hamlet then spotted up and connected on a three from the left side to make it a two-possession game.
A pair of successful Hamlet free throws would put SVC ahead 70-62 with 1:43 left on the clock, but Fitchburg refused to let the Mountaineers take the title that easily. Jones got a layup to go, and the Falcons then forced a Southern Vermont turnover to get the ball back. They made the most of their takeaway, getting the ball to junior Keyon Armstrong (Brockton, Massachusetts) who sank a three-pointer to make it 70-67. Once again, FSU was able to get SVC to cough the ball up as Burgos made a steal and pass to Jones who finished the quick layup to get within one (70-69).
Following a Southern Vermont timeout, a missed Mountaineer shot gave the ball back to Fitchburg with 10 ticks left to go. Burgos was fouled and sent to the line for a pair as the Falcons stood in the double bonus, but he was unable to hit either of his freebies as FSU was forced to foul on the subsequent rebound. White went to the stripe for Southern Vermont and missed the front-end of his bonus opportunity, but the junior captain sank the second to put the Mountaineers up 71-69 with just three seconds to play. Fitchburg St. ran the floor and got the ball to Muccioli, only to see the junior's buzzer-beating three-point attempt fall short as SVC celebrated its title victory before cutting down the net.