CHICOPEE, Mass. — A hard-fought battle ended in No. 5 Southern Vermont College falling 68-61 at fifth-seeded Elms College Tuesday night in a New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) women's basketball first-round playoff at Picknelly Arena.
SVC led 13-11 after the first quarter before taking a 33-30 edge into the halftime break. The Mountaineers were then up 51-49 before the Blazers outscored the visitors by nine points in the final 10 minutes to grab the postseason victory.
The Mountaineers finish the season with an overall record of 11-15.
Southern Vermont senior captain Amber Flagg (Windsor, Conn.) dropped a game-high 26 points in her final appearance in the SVC uniform, adding four rebounds to her line. She went 12-for-17 from the charity stripe on the evening while becoming the first Mountaineer from either the women's or the men's side to crack the 1,800 career-point plateau; Flagg finished her tenure as a Mountaineer with a total of 1,812 points, topping the previous SVC program record of 1,492 by a large margin.
Fellow senior Turquoia Johnson (Rockville, Md.) followed Flagg with 12 points on the night, snagging eight boards while swiping four steals. Classmate Shaniquewa Barnes (Landover, Md.) had another 11 points and eight rebounds, and senior Kala MacKenzie (Fair Haven, Vt.) scored five points while pulling down a team-high nine rebounds. MacKenzie, Southern Vermont's all-time leading shot blocker, tallied an additional two swats in her final game as a Mountaineer.
SVC shot 36.0 percent (18-50) from the floor while Elms took to a 37.7 percent (23-61) clip from field goal range. The Mountaineers registered a 30-16 advantage in points from the paint, but EC knocked down nine three-pointers to the visitors' two. Southern Vermont took a 43-39 edge on the boards, and the Blazers outscored SVC in points off turnovers 19-16.
SVC started out strong, going up 6-0 with the help of 2-for-2 performances at the line by both Barnes and Flagg. The Blazers tallied the next two baskets to trim their deficit, only to see Flagg free throws push it back to a four-point Mountaineer upper hand. EC quickly grabbed momentum, draining a pair of consecutive threes to go in front 10-8 with 2:39 to play in the opening quarter. MacKenzie single-handedly put her team back on top with a free throw and ensuing layup, and a final bucket from junior captain Amber Dow (Vergennes, Vt.) in the waning seconds ended the first with Southern Vermont up 13-11. MacKenzie played all 10 minutes of the first quarter, recording game-bests of five points and seven rebounds in that time.
The two sides traded scores through the opening two minutes of the next period as the first-round battle continued. Southern Vermont sophomore Chloe Longe (Enosburg Falls, Vt.) made a nice drive down the right side of the lane before scooping a shot into the hoop, and Flagg then hit nothing-but-net from the right edge of the arc for SVC to take an 18-15 edge. EC kept up its success from the outside to answer, dropping in another triple at the 6:52 mark to go ahead 21-20.
Elms tied it at 23-23, only to see Johnson take an inbound pass underneath the offensive hoop and drop in a shot while drawing the foul; she connected on the and-one opportunity, giving the Mountaineers a 26-23 upper hand. The two sides continued to go back-and-forth down the stretch of the half before Longe grabbed a pass in the left corner, drove baseline and got a pretty reverse layup to go for the 31-30 SVC advantage. Flagg added a pair of freebies with just 16 seconds to go, sending the game to halftime with Southern Vermont up 33-30. Flagg was 6-for-8 from the line in the opening 20 minutes to tally a game-best 11 points in the half. SVC went to the charity stripe 17 times while only allowing the Blazers to get there on eight occasions.
Out of the locker room, Elms scored the first five points of the second half with the help of another trey. SVC regained the lead when Johnson knocked down a jumper and followed with a free throw, but EC again used a long-ball to go back in front. The Blazer lead didn't last long as Barnes drove to the left post and put it off the glass and in, completing the and-one play to give Southern Vermont a narrow 39-38 edge.
The upper hand would alter over the next few minutes before Flagg drove down the right side and got a floater to go, drawing the foul once again for the team's second old-fashioned three-point play of the frame. The senior captain then put the Mountaineers up by four (48-44) at the 1:13 mark when she took an inbound pass at the right edge of the perimeter and drained the downtown bucket. Three more Flagg free throws in the final 37 seconds sent the game to the last stanza with SVC holding a slim 51-49 advantage.
Neither side could get a basket in the first 1:30 of the fourth before Elms stormed to a 12-0 run with the help of two three-pointers. Down 61-51, the Mountaineers refused to go quietly as they came back with eight unanswered points to get it back to a one-possession game; Barnes had four of those SVC points while Flagg and Johnson each added two free throws. The rest of the night's scoring came from the charity stripe, the Blazers notching the first five to extend their lead to 66-59 in the final minute. Flagg got a layup to go in the closing seconds, but it would be too little to overcome the EC advantage as the hosts closed out the playoff victory.