The Mountaineers play Tufts in the D-III tournament
BENNINGTON >> One goal down, more to go.
That is the mentality of the Southern Vermont College men's basketball team as they head into the opening rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament this weekend.
After winning the program's first New England Collegiate Conference title last weekend, the Mountaineers are ready to reach new heights this season.
"Seeing our guys win the NECC title over the weekend was the best feeling I have had as coach here," said SVC coach Dan Engelstad. "That's in the past, though and we're focused on our next challenge at hand, playing in the NCAA tournament."
For the first time since 2003, the Mountaineers will play in the NCAA tournament and they'll match up against Tufts in the first round.
Tufts went 20-6 during the regular season and finished fourth in the NESCAC conference.
"They're a good basketball team," Engelstad said. "They have guards that can shoot the ball well from the outside and their bigs do a great job getting rebounds and protecting the paint on defense, so we're going to have to do a good job of team rebounding and playing well in transition to give us a good chance of winning the game."
Jumbos' center Tom Palleschi is second in the NCAA in blocked shots this season, so Mountaineer bigs DeShawn Hamlet and Casey Hall will need to find ways to score around Palleschi's shot-blocking ability.
"We know it's going to be tough to score inside on them, but I'm just going try to keep doing what I have been doing to score points in the paint," Hall said. "I just going to keep playing physical down there in the paint and not worry getting my shots blocked."
Hall was named NECC Player of the Week on Tuesday for his performance in the conference tournament over the weekend to help SVC win its first conference title.
He also earned second team All-NECC honors for his play during the regular season this week as well.
Another thing about the Mountaineers bigs though are that they can shoot well outside the paint and Engelstad said he is encouraging them to limit Palleschi's presence in the game.
"Coach has told me all week that if I have a open shot from the outside to take it," said Hamlet, who received first team All-NECC honors. "Me and Casey are in-and-out guys, so we have the ability to score outside the paint and that's going to be big for us against Tufts."
The other keys to victory for SVC will be the same for as its been all season long — playing good defense, using their great depth to their advantage in wearing teams down and like always, bringing a lot of energy to the court. It's what the Mountaineers call Wreckage.
"Energy and defense," said junior guard Rayshawn Taylor. "Those are the things that has helped us win all season and all of us know we to continue to do that to advance."
It has been a historic season for the Mountaineers, but all of them know they have unfinished business.
"This group isn't finished yet," Engelstad said. "This team has more goals out there to achieve and they're ready to accomplish them. We still have a job to finish and we're ready to take on that challenge this weekend."
The game will be at Tufts' Cousens Gym starting at 7:30 p.m. The opening game of the pod is at 5:30 p.m. and pits Skidmore and Franklin and Marshall. The winners of Friday's game play Saturday at 7 p.m.
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