SVC wins finale, preps for tournament

BENNINGTON —Having already clinched the top spot in the upcoming New England Collegiate Conference tournament, Southern Vermont's regular season finale against Newbury was a tune-up for Thursday's NECC semifinal.

While the Mountaineers earned a 102-90 win over the Nighthawks, SVC coach Dan Engelstad's first concern was the 52 points his team allowed in the second half.

"It was a tale of two halves, our first half was awesome," said Engelstad, whose Mountaineers have been the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament for the past four years. "The ball was going in, we were sharing it, moving well without the ball, we had 12 assists in the first half. But in the second, we didn't defend as much and we have to be a good defensive team in the playoffs."

Newbury, coming into the game at 4-20 overall, hung around for the first 10 minutes, taking a 21-20 lead on a Keith Hollman basket. But the Mountaineers roared back on some strong shooting from beyond the arc, making six threes in the first half, en route to 11 in the game.

After Hollman's basket, SVC outscored the Nighthawks 40-17 in the last 10 minutes of the first half to take a 60-38 lead at the break.

On Senior Day, the team's three seniors — Mike Pierre, Daemond Carter and Claude Payne — combined for 45 points on the afternoon, led by Pierre's team-high 24. Carter added 14 and Payne had seven in his final regular season home game.

"I am thankful for our seniors and what they've brought to the program, they stepped up and made some big plays," Engelstad said.

In the second half, SVC kept up its run but Newbury started one of their own, choosing to try and match the speed of the Mountaineers.

SVC kept the lead better than 20 until the final six minutes, when the Nighthawks ripped off a 10-0 run to pull within 91-84 with 4:30 to go after a basket by Daivon Edwards, who led all scorers with 28 points.

But the Mountaineers finished off the Nighthawks with some good free-throw shooting in the final minutes, a pair by Kyle Depollar (the second-highest scorer for SVC on the afternoon with 21 points), two from Andre Hodo and three from Damon Daniel put them over the century mark in points.

"We made some good plays in the last few minutes and you look that from your veterans," Engelstad said. "I was pleased when Newbury made their push, we were able to extend [the lead]."

Hodo scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and had nine assists, while Aaron Murray added 12 points and seven rebounds in only 17 minutes.

SVC finishes the regular season at 20-5 and 12-2 in the conference, reaching a pair of goals from before the season started. Now the goal is to win the next two and make the NCAA tournament.

"We split the year into three sections. In the non-conference, we learned a lot about our basketball team. In conference, we've won it four years in a row and that's the full body of work. I'm proud to be able to do that after the early loss [to Becker]. It's an advantage to play at home with the MAC Pack behind out back."

SVC will play the winner of Tuesday's opening round game between No. 4 Lesley and No. 5 Wheelock on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mountaineer Athletic Center.


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