BENNINGTON -- Celebrating Senior Day on Saturday, the Southern Vermont College women and men's basketball teams played a double-header with Mitchell College, with the women falling 69-56 in the opening contest while the men topped the New England Collegiate Conference leaders for the second time this season in a 78-68 win.
In the men's game, the Mountaineers relied on their renewed commitment on the defensive end to open up a 39-24 lead at the break behind 11 points from Rayshawn Taylor and eight from Eddie Mack III.
"This is two games in a row now, we have really put all of our emphasis in practice the last couple weeks to be the best defensive team. And you can sense the toughness of the group starting to come back. That is the difference in the games," said SVC coach Dan Engelstad.
But Mitchell (16-6, 11-3 NECC) showed why they are the conference leaders when the team started a desperate comeback in the second half.
With SVC up 58-45, Mitchell put together a 9-0 run behind two buckets each from Joshua Ford (15 points) and Anthony Epps (11 points) to make it 58-54, then after a basket by SVC's Antoine White (9 points) and exchanged free throws between the sides, Mitchell would cut the lead to three on a 3-pointer by Alex Del Rio.
SVC would answer quickly through Dolapo Olugbile (7 points) as he converted the first of three and-one opportunities SVC would get over the final three minutes to make it 65-59.
After Ford cut the deficit back to five on a free throw, Taylor drove the lane and, while being held by two Mitchell players, managed to get off a shot for another and-one opportunity, which he converted to make it 68-60.
White would deliver the final nail in the coffin with under a minute to play.
With SVC up 72-65 after Taylor broke the Mitchell press for a layup, White came back down on the next possession and took a pass from Blair Manners and made the basket despite contact, fitting the free throw to put the Mountaineers up 75-65.
"I knew [Mitchell] was going to make a push because of how talented they are, but I never felt like the game was going to sway the other way," Engelstad said. "I always thought we were going to come up with that big play and that big stop and we had some big time and-one's."
Taylor led the Mountaineers with 18 points in what Engelstad called his best game of the season. Mack III added 16 while Manners finished with eight points and 14 rebounds.
"I can't say enough about Manners," Engelstad said. "He has stepped up tremendously in the last two games. He is starting to get some confidence about him, and he is starting to get more of a shot."
Hill and Ford both recorded double-doubles for Mitchell, with Hill recording 24 rebounds to go with his 19 points while Ford added 15 boards.
The biggest applause of the game went to senior Edimil Sanchez, who was put into the game late. The SVC crowd honored the lone senior with a standing ovation, and Sanchez was just off the mark on his only shot of the game as time expired.
SVC ends the regular season with a 16-9, 10-6 record. The Mountaineers are into the NECC tournament, but are awaiting their seeding.
For the women, it was a game that the Mountaineers would be in early before a back-breaking run in the first half helped Mitchell secure the win.
Amber Flagg converted on a rare four-point play with just over 11 minutes to play in the first half to make it 12-9 in favor of Mitchell, and Amber Dow would hit two free throws a minute later to cut the deficit to one.
But from there, Mitchell exerted its pressure on the game and went on a 14-0 run to take a commanding 27-12 lead. Toshina Jessamay scored eight of the points for the Mariners during the stretch.
SVC responded with a 10-2 run to cut the score to 29-22 with 1:43 to play in the half, but a pair of Mitchell baskets to close the half made it 33-22.
The closest SVC would get in the second would be 43-37 with 9:44 to play, but Mitchell would go up by as many as 15 with just over three minutes left and would hit its free throws late to secure the win.
Flagg led all players with 20 points, adding nine rebounds and three steals to her total. Javasha White added nine points and nine rebounds, while Mariah Anthony had 11 points and Kala MacKenzie had eight rebounds.
Jyline Varin was the lone graduate for the girls this year, with the junior graduating after three years at the school.
SVC ends the year with a 6-19, 4-14 record.