Men’s Basketball Clinches NECC Playoff Berth with 77-59 Home Win Over Wheelock

kj kinsey dribbles the ball

BENNINGTON, Vt. – The Southern Vermont College men's basketball team grabbed its fifth-straight win and fifth-straight New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) playoff berth Wednesday night with a 77-59 home victory over Wheelock College at the Mountaineer Athletic Center.

SVC was led by a tremendous offensive performance from senior Claude Payne (South Plainfield, N.J.) who registered a career-high 26 points on 12-14 shooting from the field. He was a perfect 8-8 from the floor to register 18 points in the first half and help the Mountaineers bring a 41-24 lead into the break, and the hosts then maintained their separation in the final 20 minutes to take the season sweep of the Wildcats.

Southern Vermont improves to 16-4 on the year and 8-1 against the Conference while WC falls to 2-17 overall and 1-8 in NECC play. Both teams are back in action on Saturday as SVC hosts Lesley University for a 1 p.m. start while Wheelock tips-off at 12 p.m. in a home league game against Becker College.

The Mountaineers have now won their last nine-straight meetings with WC—defeating the Wildcats by an average margin of 24.1 points in that run.

Payne also tied the game-high of nine rebounds on the night while classmate Mike Pierre (Melrose, N.Y.) had 17 points, another nine boards, and four assists in the win. Junior Kyle Depollar (Rockville, Md.) tallied nine points and three rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench, and senior Daemond Carter (Forestville, Md.) registered eight points, five boards, and a pair of steals.

Wildcat junior Dejuan Rodriguez (New Britain, Conn.) and senior Kiwane Crowder (Milwaukee, Wis.) each had a team-best 15 points while adding nine and seven rebounds, respectively. Freshman Erick Hernandez (Tampa, Fla.) had five points, and he dished out a game-best seven helpers in the effort.

Southern Vermont shot 53.1 percent (34-64) from the field while holding Wheelock to a 33.8 percent (22-65) clip from the floor. The Mountaineers controlled the glass with a 45-36 advantage in rebounds, but WC used a 13-10 upper hand in offensive boards to outscore SVC 11-8 in second-chance points. The hosts ran the floor well to notch 11 fast-break points to the Wildcats' two.

Payne was hot from the start as he dropped three quick buckets to give the Mountaineers an 11-6 edge early on, but the Wildcats came back with six unanswered points to take what would be their only lead of the night. SVC responded with a 10-3 run to regain the upper hand—Payne notching four of those points to have 10 by the 12:46 mark of the first half. Up by six with 3:36 to go in the period, Southern Vermont closed out the frame with 11-straight points including a catch-and-shoot triple by Pierre from the right edge.

After Pierre had six points in the opening 5:41 of the second stanza for SVC to stake its largest lead of the night at 53-29, Wheelock cut it down to a 13-point difference with a 13-2 run; Crowder had six points in that stretch with the help of a good-looking pair of back-to-back jumpers. Southern Vermont then kicked it into gear, however, to close out the game and prevent it from getting closer than 12—using a 14-4 run capped by a knock-down Depollar trey to seal the deal. Payne and Pierre each had four points in that late spurt to finish off their strong evenings.