Men’s Basketball Holds on to Edge Mitchell 69-64 in NECC Thriller

claude payne dunks the ball

BENNINGTON, Vt. – An exciting finish ended a close-fought New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) men's basketball matchup at the Mountaineer Athletic Center Saturday afternoon as Southern Vermont College took the 12th-and-final lead change of the game with 1:43 on the clock to defeat Mitchell College 69-64.

SVC held just a 40-39 edge at halftime and couldn't escape from the Mariners through the final 20 minutes. MC seized the upper hand a handful of times through the second stanza, but the Mountaineers were able to come up with the big plays down the stretch to go on top and close it out in the waning seconds.

With the season sweep of Mitchell, Southern Vermont extends its winning streak to eight-straight games and improves to 19-4 on the year and 11-1 in NECC play. Mitchell drops to 12-11 overall and 8-4 against the league with the loss.

The Mountaineers head into the final week of regular season action with their next-to-last contest coming on Wednesday in a 7 p.m. tip-off at Elms College. MC is back on the floor at the same time on Wednesday with a home tilt against Lesley University.

While only two SVC players reached double figures in the points column, each of the nine Mountaineers who saw action got in on the scoring. The hosts were led by senior Mike Pierre (Melrose, N.Y.) who notched 14 points while grabbing nine rebounds, and classmate Claude Payne (South Plainfield, N.J.) pulled down a team-best 12 boards in addition to registering eight points. Junior Kyle Depollar (Rockville, Md.) had 12 points and four assists in 33 minutes of reserve time while junior Aaron Murray (Camden, N.J.) pitched in with eight points and 10 rebounds during 24 minutes off the bench.

Mitchell junior Domenico Santiago (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) had a strong day in the front court as he had 15 points and seven offensive rebounds to tally the double-double with 18 boards overall. Sophomore Hasani Williams (Miramar, Fla.) put up a game-best 16 points in addition to grabbing six rebounds, and junior Steffen Brunson (West Haven, Conn.) tallied 11 points for the visitors.

Southern Vermont went 30-68 (44.1 percent) from the floor while holding the Mariners to a 35.3 percent (24-68) clip from field goal range. SVC secured a 48-41 edge on the glass, but Mitchell was able to use its offensive boards to outscore the Mountaineers 19-15 in second-chance points. However, Southern Vermont took advantage of MC's mistakes to score 20 points off turnovers to the Mariners' nine with an 18-2 upper hand in fast-break points.

Neither side led by more than five throughout the afternoon as the contest was tightly contested from the tip. A Payne dunk came soon-after six unanswered Mountaineer points for the hosts to sit in front 16-11, but Mitchell came back with a 9-2 run highlighted by triples from senior Brayvon Young (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) and sophomore Matt Finke (Wolcott, Conn.). The two teams traded blows in the backend of the period with Depollar connecting on a pair of shots from downtown before a solo free throw with 28 ticks left gave SVC the slim advantage at the break.

The second half was more of the same with baskets going back-and-forth the entire way. Southern Vermont held a 52-50 lead through nearly two minutes of scoreless action midway through the frame, and the game would be tied four times while the lead changed hands on three occasions through the next eight minutes of play; the last of those switches came with 2:27 to go when Santiago missed the second of two free throw attempts—only to see Williams grab the rebound, get a layup to go while being fouled, and hit his freebie for the 64-63 upper hand.

Those would be Mitchell's final points of the day, however, as SVC took all of the momentum while making the most of its opportunities down the stretch. Pierre snagged a defensive board and chucked it to junior Andre Hodo (Rockville, Md.), who was streaking down the court, for an easy layup and the lead. Southern Vermont then forced a low-quality look from MC and pulled down the rebound on the next possession; a loose-ball scramble ensued in the Mountaineer front court, and Payne was able to grab it and find Hodo for another clear look at the hoop.

With 30 seconds left and down by three, Mitchell opted not to use its final timeout; the Mariners ran a play and ended up finding an open Bruson at the left side of the arc, but his game-tying attempt clanked off the back of the rim before Pierre scooped up the ball and took it the distance for the deal sealer. Hodo finished with nine points on the day.