MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – The Southern Vermont College men's basketball was overpowered by a stellar performance from 15th-ranked Wesleyan University Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament as the hosting Cardinals charted a 101-71 win at their Silloway Gymnasium.
WU went on a 14-0 run early in the first half and never let go of the lead through the final horn. Wesleyan was on top 53-38 at the halftime break before extending its advantage through the final 20 minutes to secure a spot in the second round.
SVC finishes the 2017-18 campaign with an overall record of 22-6.
"I couldn't be more proud of this group," said SVC fifth-year head coach Dan Engelstad after his second trip to the DIII playoff at the helm of the Mountaineer squad. "Tonight's result obviously wasn't what we had hoped for, but the perseverance this group showed all year… the ride that they gave—not only our program, our team, and myself and our staff—but the ride that they gave the community, and how they did it, is something I'll cherish forever."
A pair of Mountaineers chalked up team-highs in their final game in the Southern Vermont uniform as seniors Mike Pierre (Melrose, N.Y.) and Claude Payne (South Plainfield, N.J.) each notched 18 points on Friday; Payne also had a team-best six rebounds while Pierre added four caroms and a pair of assists. Freshman KJ Kinsey (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) chipped in with 14 points in 25 minutes off the bench, and junior Andre Hodo (Rockville, Md.) tallied eight points, three boards, and two assists in the effort.
Wesleyan shot 53.6 percent (37-69) from the floor while going 14-31 (45.2 percent) on 3-pointers; Southern Vermont connected on 44.4 percent (28-63) of its field goal attempts. The Cardinals, who had a starting lineup with an average height of nearly six feet six inches, snagged a 50-25 advantage in rebounds to outscore SVC 18-9 in second-chance points.
In the first-ever meeting between the two sides, the Mountaineers jumped out to a quick 6-0 edge as Hodo dropped in a pair of buckets before setting up Payne for a jumper. WU struggled to find its rhythm in that time with the Cardinals missing their first five shots of the game—including three from the outside.
However, once Wesleyan started going, the hosts were able to sustain their momentum through the rest of the night. WU used its size to put down a pair of dunks during a 14-0 run—a stretch that saw two buckets come from beyond the arc. SVC would not go away easily with the Mountaineers cutting their 10-point deficit down to three as four players pitched in to help their team go on a 9-2 spurt sparked by an old-fashioned 3-point play from Payne.
Southern Vermont hung around and closed the gap on multiple occasions through the midpoint of the stanza when the Cardinals looked like they were going to pull away. Down 38-29 with 5:46 to go, Kinsey drilled a triple before Pierre converted an and-1 play to get it back to a 3-point game. Wesleyan finished the half on a 15-3 run, however, for a comfortable upper hand at the intermission. WU went 10-10 from the free throw line in the first half while SVC was 4-4 from the charity stripe; the Mountaineers were hard-pressed to get freebie opportunities with the Cardinals only being called for six fouls in the frame—still sitting at just three with 4:30 left on the clock.
Wesleyan's efficiency from downtown was even better in the second half as the hosts never let Southern Vermont get closer than 13. The Cardinals went 9-16 (56.3 percent) on long-range attempts as they built their largest lead of the night at 33. Payne dropped nine of his points in his final 20 minutes of collegiate action while Pierre added seven before they, along with classmate Daemond Carter (Forestville, Md.), were taken out of the game in the waning minutes to standing ovations from the SVC crowd.
"I'm going to miss Mike, Daemond, and Claude," Engelstad added. "That was one thing that I stressed to the guys in the locker room—that the hardest part about tonight is that I'll never get a chance to coach those guys again, and I'm just so appreciative of everything they brought to our program; and now it's on the guys who are returners to try and carry the torch and take the program to the next level. But this group is one that's going down in SVC history, and they should be proud of everything they've accomplished. I'm really blessed and thankful that I got to be their coach."
– #LetsGoSVC –