CHICOPEE, Mass. - Mitchell College's Joshua Ford (Jersey City, N.J.) hit the go-ahead free throw with 24 seconds left and finished with a game-high 25 points and 12 rebounds and was named tournament most valuable player (MVP) as the second-seeded Mariners edged No. 1 Elms College in Saturday afternoon's New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship men's basketball tournament title game at Picknelly Arena.
With the win, Mitchell improves to 19-7 overall and earns the NECC's automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Division III Championship – the program's first-ever NCAA postseason appearance. Elms moves to 15-12 on the season and will await a possible at-large bid to NCAA postseason play or selection into the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III New England Championship.
In a game that was tightly contested in thrilling fashion from start to finish, Elms posted a nine-point, 60-51 lead on jumper by sophomore guard Derek Murphy (Columbia, Md.) with 10:06 to play in the contest. Mitchell's Anthony Epps (Norwalk, Conn.) answered with a layup that sparked 9-3 run that pulled the Mariners to within three at 63-60 with 8:08 to play.
A three-point play on a layup and free throw by Blazers' guard Andre French (Torrington, Conn.) and jumper by senior forward Isaiah Odunlami (Providence, R.I.) at the top of the key helped Elms extend its lead back to seven at 68-61 with 6:46 to play.
A bucket underneath by Epps on a nice feed from Ford, followed by a pair of Ford layups pulled Mitchell to within one (68-67) with 4:33 on the clock. Junior forward Kenny Lockett (Atlanta, Ga.) answered the run by hitting the front end of two free throws but Ford responded with a layup to knot the game at 69-69 with 3:09 left. Lockett then hit a jumper with 2:36 to play to give the Blazers a 71-69 edge before the Mariners evened the game once more on a bucket in the paint by Alex Del Rio (New Britain, Conn.) with 62 seconds to play in regulation.
With 24 ticks on the clock Ford hit the back-end of two foul shots to give Mitchell a 72-71 lead. Elms missed its first shot at taking the lead with nine seconds left but a critical offensive rebound by Odunlami allowed the Blazers to retain possession. Mitchell's Parris Hill (Stockton, Calif.) then delivered a superb block on a layup attempt with five seconds left but Elms held onto possession as the ball traveled out of bounds.
On the in-bounds play, French launched a three-pointer that was corralled by Odunlami but his put-back buzzer-beater attempt fell short as the Mariners held on for a thrilling victory.
Mitchell shot 53.4-percent from the field led by Ford's 11 of 13 shooting effort from the floor. Hill finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Epps added 10 points and six boards in the winning effort.
Hill and Ford each had three blocked shots while Del Rio was tremendous at the point dishing out eight assists in addition to chipping in seven points.
Lockett led four Blazers in double figures with 18 points, followed by 16 from Odunlami as both players were 7 of 13 shooting from the field. French notched 15 points on the strength of three treys, while Murphy collected 13 points for Elms which shot 40.6-percent from the field as a team. Murphy dished out five assists, while French added four assists in the losing effort.
French contributed nine rebounds, while Lockett and freshman forward Conny Ihearahu (Largo, Md.) followed with seven boards each behind Odunlami's team-best 10 rebounds.
Elms won the rebound battle, 44-34 and led in second chance points, 15-5. Mitchell out-dueled the Blazers in the paint, 54-36 and held a slim 15-12 advantage in points off turnovers.
2013-14 NECC Championship All-Tournament Team
Ryan Chambers, Regis College
Kyle Credle, Becker College
Andre French, Elms College
Kenny Lockett, Elms College
Parris Hill, Mitchell College
Joshua Ford, Mitchell College - MVP