BENNINGTON, Vt. – After only leading by six at the half, No. 1 Southern Vermont College pulled away in the final 20 minutes Thursday night at the Mountaineer Athletic Center to defeat fourth-seeded Lesley University 71-51 in the semifinal round of the 2018 New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) men's basketball championship tournament.
SVC was up 28-22 going to the intermission, but the hosts padded their cushion by 14 in the second stanza to earn a spot in their fourth-straight NECC title game. The Mountaineers will line up with No. 2 Becker College on Saturday at 5 p.m. as the two sides will meet in a third consecutive finals tilt at the MAC.
Southern Vermont improves to 21-5 on the year with Thursday's win while LU finishes the campaign at 13-14. SVC has now taken four in-a-row against the Lynx and 10 of the last 11 overall meetings. The Mountaineers are 5-0 in semifinal games under head coach Dan Engelstad—winning each of their four NECC playoff games with a trip to the championship on the line and taking an Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament semis victory in 2015.
The Mountaineers were led on Thursday by a game-high 22-point performance from senior Mike Pierre (Melrose, N.Y.) who also had six rebounds, three steals, two assists, and a pair of blocks. Junior forward Andre Hodo (Rockville, Md.) notched seven assists, five boards, and four points for SVC while classmate Kyle Depollar (Rockville, Md.) had 10 points and four rebounds during 28 minutes of reserve time. Seniors Daemond Carter (Forestville, Md.) and Claude Payne (South Plainfield, N.J.) each had another 10 points in the win.
Lynx senior Jordan Bellitti (Cambridge, Mass.) tallied team-highs of 18 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes off the Lesley bench as classmate Marquise Johnson (Hampton, Va.) chalked up 13 points, four boards, three assists, and two steals. Junior Joey Martin (Melbourne, Fla.) got into double digits with 10 points, and he also had five rebounds and three assists on the night.
SVC shot 48.3 percent (28-58) from the floor while LU went 19-51 (37.3 percent) from field goal range. The Mountaineers pulled down a 36-29 advantage on the glass while outscoring the Lynx 38-22 from the paint.
Lesley worked the shot clock in the early going with three of the visitors' opening possessions going under the 10-second mark to make the beginning of the night a low-scoring affair. Neither side could maintain an upper hand as Bellitti rolled in a layup to make it 17-17 with 6:50 left in the half.
Depollar then converted on an and-1 play, however, for the first three of seven unanswered SVC points. After Depollar and Hodo registered back-to-back buckets to put the Mountaineers on top by eight with 1:52 to go, a pair of Johnson freebies accounted for the remainder of the period's scoring for Southern Vermont to bring a six-point edge into the break.
Coming out of a seven-point first half, Pierre started to find his groove in the second frame while putting the Lynx in foul trouble; the senior got a layup to go while drawing the personal on three occasions in the last 20 minutes as he went on a personal 10-1 run with a triple—extending SVC's advantage to 47-27. Back-to-back Bellitti treys made it a 15-point difference under the 10:00 mark, but Southern Vermont was able to come up with the necessary answer at the other end time and time again to push Lesley's deficit back to 20 and walk into the championship round.
– #LetsGoSVC –