CHICOPEE, Mass. - Sophomore guard Dan Gonzalez (East Windsor, CT) netted a season-high 19 points, junior guard Juan Galdon (Holyoke, MA) dropped in 18 points and top-seeded Elms College used a clutch run late in the first half to pull away to a 105-76 win over second-seeded Becker College in the championship game of the inaugural New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Men's Basketball Tournament on Saturday afternoon at the Maguire Center.
Elms College, ranked 12th nationally in the latest D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll, extended its school-record win streak to 16 straight and improved to a program-best 26-1.
The Blazers must now await either a Pool B or Pool C bid into the this week's NCAA Division III Championship, as the newly-formed NECC is currently in the first of a mandatory two-year waiting period for an automatic qualifier. Pairings will be announced by the NCAA live on Monday, March 2 at 10:00 a.m.
Becker, which went just 3-22 just two years ago, finished 19-8 overall. The Hawks will also await a possible bid into either the NCAA Division III Championship or ECAC Division III New England Championship.
Senior guard Aswad Thomas (Hartford, CT), who began the week as the nation's NCAA Division III leader in steals, added a season-high 15 assists to go along with a game-high six steals and was named NECC Tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Galdon, who is now just 36 points away from surpassing Kyle Seyboth '05 (1,175) as the program's all-time leading scorer, connected on a sizzling 7 of 10 from the field, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.
The Blazers held a slim 28-24 lead following a layup by Becker sophomore forward Rajai Leggett (New Haven, CT) with 8:07 left in the first half.
From there, Elms College erupted for 25-9 run over the next 6:08 to take its largest lead of the half at 53-33. Senior guard Joe Esile (Milford, CT) knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, junior forward Javon Mathis (West Hartford, CT) converted a pair of layups and Gonzalez added a jumper and 3-pointer to help key the run.
The Blazers converted 14 offensive rebounds in the first half into a 17-3 advantage in second chance points and also added nine first half 3-pointers to take a 59-40 lead into intermission.
From there, Elms College shot 51.5-percent (17 for 33) in the second half while limiting the Hawks to just 33.3-percent (12 for 36).
For the game, the Blazers connected on 13 of 31 (41.9-percent) from 3-point range and also held decisive advantages in bench scoring (64-14), points off turnovers (37-12) and second change points (25-13).
For Becker, Leggett finished with a game-high 21 points and was named to the All- Tournament Team along with senior guard Travis Suber (Springfield, MA), the NECC's Player of the Year, who finished with 18 points.
Senior guard Antoine Holder (Hartford, CT) finished with 13 points in just 12 minutes of action, while Mathis and senior forward Ronald Thomas (Chicago, IL) added 10 points apiece as the other three Elms College players to reach double figures in the victory.
Story Courtesy of Elms Sports Information
2008-‘09 NECC MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Tuesday, February 24
#6 Newbury (7-18, 4-10) at #3 Daniel Webster (16-8, 10-4), DWC 86, NC 65
#5 Mitchell (8-17, 4-10) at #4 Wheelock (9-16, 7-7), WC 105, MC 91
Friday, February 27 (Hosted by Elms College, Chicopee, Mass.)
#4 Wheelock (10-16) at #1 Elms (24-1, 14-0), EC 94, WC 74
#3 Daniel Webster (17-8) vs. #2 Becker (18-7, 11-3), BC 74 DWC 71
Saturday, February 28 (Hosted by Elms College, Chicopee, Mass.)
#2 Becker (19-8) vs. #1 Elms (26-1), EC 105, BC 76
2009 NECC Men's Basketball All Tournament Team
NECC MBB All-Tournament Team: Juan Galdon (EC), Rajai Leggett (BC), Aswad Thomas-MVP (EC), Travis Suber (BC), not pictured Sherard Robbins (WC) and Chris Hanson (DWC)
MVP Aswad Thomas,
Elms, Senior, Guard (Hartford, Conn.)
Juan Galdon, Elms, Junior, Guard (Holyoke, Mass.)
Chris Hanson, Daniel Webster, Sophomore, Guard (Salem, Mass.)
Rajai Leggett, Becker, Sophomore, Forward (New Haven, Conn.)
Sherard Robbins, Wheelock, Junior, Forward (Malden, Mass.)
Travis Suber, Becker, Senior, Guard (Springfield, Mass.)