BENNINGTON -- With only four weeks remaining until the New England Collegiate Conference tournament, Southern Vermont College men's basketball (9-4, 3-1) coach Dan Engelstad said that "every one of these games are huge from here on out," but the Mountaineers will play a slightly more significant contest on Tuesday as the team hosts Daniel Webster College at the Mountaineer Athletic Center at 7 p.m.
"Daniel Webster is a great opponent and their record shows it," Engelstad said. "They are 10-2 (3-1 in the NECC) and one of the losses is to a Division I team [Brown University]."
With both teams at 3-1 in the NECC, the pair are tied for second place in the conference along with Becker College. With a win, the Mountaineers can maintain its ground in trying to top Mitchell College (8-3, 5-0). With a loss, the Mountaineers will have to cover some serious ground in order to win the NECC regular season title.
"[Daniel Webster] can shoot the ball. A lot of their shots come from three and they have offensive weapons," Engelstad said. "I think we can hurt them inside. I don't think they can match us in the post so much. It is going to be a good test for us."
The Mountaineers will enter the contest with its new starting five, trying to find a nice rhythm. With the loss of Davante Jordan over the break, Eddie Mack III has slotted in as the other guard opposite Antoine White, while Rayshawn Taylor and DeShawn Hamlet have replaced Jordan Alston and Blair Manners in the front court. Dolapo Olugbile is the fifth starter for the Mountaineers.
"Rayshawn can be one of the best wings in our league. He has the potential to be really special," Engelstad said. "DeShawn has the potential, when he is right mentally, to be one of the best players in the league. I think this group gives us a big-time offensive firepower group that is fast and has the potential to create havoc."
Taylor averaged 14.5 points per game last week as the Mountaineers went 2-1, while Hamlet led the team in scoring in a win over Newbury and the loss to Becker. In Saturday's win over Lesley, the Mountaineers were also given a boost when Alston had one of his best games of the season, scoring 13 points off the bench on 4-of-6 shooting from three.
"He played like the kid I recruited and brought up here," Engelstad said. "I'm hopeful with him adding a punch off the bench and being one of our better shooters can open things up for not only himself, but the whole team."
As a team, the Mountaineers shot 13-for-24 from beyond the arc in the win over Lesley, the team's highest output since the first game of the season.
"We did a better job of realizing what is a good shot as opposed to a shot we can always get," Engelstad said. "Against Lesley, we got it going because we were taking good shots and there was more rhythm to it."
Daniel Webster is led by Daris Crosby, a senior forward leading the team in scoring at 17.4 per game, while backcourt duo Kevin Perez and Ryan Gauthier average 13.2 and 14.9, respectively.
After Tuesday's contest, the Mountaineers will host Wheelock College (0-11, 0-4), and reigning NECC Rookie of the Week Anthony Williams, on Thursday before traveling to Regis (3-9, 2-2) on Saturday.
"Wheelock has had a tough non-conference schedule. They are better than their record indicates," Engelstad said. "Regis, two days after we lost to Becker, they beat Becker and held them to under 40 points. They are a team that is going to defend. It will be a good challenge for us."
Somewhere during that stretch, the Mountaineers will welcome Ervin Cook to the team. Cook, another Walt Whitman High School product from Maryland, is undergoing his physical today, could play on Thursday.
The Southern Vermont women's team also went 2-1 last week, sandwiching wins against Wheelock and Lesley with a loss at Newbury.
In the team's two wins, Amber Flagg averaged 24 points per game, while in the loss she was held to just 16 points. Sarah McDonald was a consistent presence in all three games, averaging 14.6 points over the stretch while pulling down just under 10 rebounds per contest.
The biggest surprise of last week came from forward Kala MacKenzie, who posted 24 points in the win over Lesley and 16 against Wheelock, well above her average of 11. MacKenzie also averaged 11.6 rebounds per contest last week.
But while the Mountaineers (4-9, 2-4) picked up two NECC wins last week, the week ahead will prove a much more difficult task. The team will travel to Mitchell and Regis in the first two games this week before returning home to host Daniel Webster. Mitchell sits second in the NECC with a 5-1 league record, 6-7 overall, while Regis is a perfect 6-0 in league play and 9-4 overall. Daniel Webster sits one place above SVC at 3-3 in the conference and 5-7 overall.
Mitchell is the top scoring team in the league, averaging 68.2 points per contest heading into Tuesday's contest. Mitchell also leads the league in three-pointers made at 5.2 per game and in rebounding at 55.3 per game.
Amanda Garcia leads the way for Mitchell, averaging 11.9 points per game while hauling in 9.3 rebounds.