SVC advances to conference championship

BENNINGTON — Despite putting up one of their lowest-scoring halves of the season in the first half of Thursday night's New England Collegiate Conference semifinal against Lesley, Southern Vermont College men's basketball coach Dan Engelstad didn't give his team a rip-roaring speech.

"I told them they are in a great position and that our shots will start to fall, so go out and play with a smile on your face in the second half," Engelstad said. "Our energy and effort on the defensive end was fantastic. We got the playoff jitters out, now it's just playing basketball the way we're supposed to."

SVC came out of the locker room rolling, outscoring the Lynx by 14 in the second half to cruise to a 71-51 win and advance to Saturday's NECC championship game.

Senior Mike Pierre led all scorers with 22 points, including 15 in the second half as SVC started to pull away.

SVC led 28-22 at halftime but came out aggressive early in the second, with Claude Payne earning a three-point play on the first possession, then Pierre getting one only a moment later.

Daemond Carter — who added 10 points of his own — drilled a three on the next possession to up the Mountaineers' advantage to 13 at 37-24 as the crowd at the Mountaineer Athletic Center roared.

"Once we got going, I knew we were in good shape," Engelstad said.

Pierre drained another triple a couple minutes later to make it a 40-26 lead and Lesley coach Chris Giordano called timeout.

SVC kept the pressure on, making it tough for the Lynx to get into the front-court. The Mountaineers used the surge to extend the lead even more, eventually getting to 21 on a basket from Aaron Murray to make it 50-29 with 12 minutes left in the game.

"We tried to speed the game up a little bit, we're a pretty versatile team," Pierre said. "We can guard in the half-court or press. So if we could speed the game up, we could get into transition a little more."

Two other Mountaineers reached double figures with 10 points, Kyle Depollar and senior Claude Payne, who went 4-for-4 from the field in limited action after getting his fourth foul early in the second half.

"Mike's the best player in the league and it was good to see him play like that in the second half," Engelstad said. "We've had consistent efforts from different guys and we don't know where it's going to come from, could be [Andre], could be Josh [Borders], could be [Daemond], could be KJ [Kinsey], could be Kyle. That's what makes us hard to guard, we have enough guys that can provide a punch."

The Mountaineers will host No. 2 Becker in a rematch of last year's NECC championship on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Mountaineer Athletic Center.

The teams went 1-1 against each other this season.

"It means everything to [play the game] here, especially after last year, having to go to Becker," Pierre said. "That's what we wanted. We worked hard this year to get the chance and we're ready."

Engelstad said that he and the Mountaineers wouldn't want it any other way.

"We've been looking forward to this rematch. We want to go through the best to win our conference championship, we'll have them ready. We look forward to the challenge on Saturday," Engelstad said.


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