NEW LONDON, Conn. – Fourth-seeded Mitchell College claimed the 2019 New England Collegiate Conference Men's Basketball Championship with a 77-69 overtime win over sixth-seeded Newbury College on Saturday afternoon at the Yarnall Athletic Center.
The Mariners (19-9 overall) claimed their second NECC title and earned the league's automatic bid for the 2019 NCAA Division III Championship. The bracket will be announced live on NCAA.com on Monday, February 25 at 12:30 p.m.
Domenico Santiago (Port St. Lucie, Fla./Port St. Lucie), who was named the tournament's most valuable player, finished with 16 points and a game-high 25 rebounds. His 25 rebounds broke the school record and are the fourth-most in a Division III game this season.
Steffen Brunson (West Haven, Conn./Hill Regional Career) led all scorers with 20 points and added six rebounds and five assists for the Mariners. Hasani Williams (Miramar, Fla./Hallandale) added a double-double of 13 points and 11 boards while Matt Finke (Wolcott, Conn./Wolcott) finished with nine points.
Pierce Weatherspoon (Hartford, Conn./Wethersfield) paced Newbury (12-15 overall) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Tank Roberson (Pittsfield, Mass./St. Joseph) chipped in 17 points, a game-high seven assists and five rebounds, and Tim Deng (Portland, Maine/Deering) contributed 11 points and five boards.
Mitchell opened the game with an 11-2 spurt that included a pair of buckets from Santiago. However, Newbury quickly recovered by scoring eight straight to pull within one, spurred on by back-to-back three-pointers from Weatherspoon and Omar Williams (Queens, N.Y./Benjamin N. Cardozo).
Weatherspoon continued with the hot hand and netted 16 points in the half en route to a 33-29 Newbury lead at the break. Brunson and Malik Chase (Providence, R.I./Classical) each scored seven points to lead the Mariners.
The Nighthawks kept the pressure on in the second half and built the lead to nine on a three-pointer by Deng that made it 40-31 with 17:53 remaining. Over the next 10 minutes, despite Mitchell's best attempts to climb back into the game, Newbury always had an answer and didn't let the lead dip below five.
A layup by Roberson padded the lead to 55-46 with 7:40 to go. With time running out on the season, Mitchell finally kicked into gear, using a 6-0 run to make it a one-possession game. Hasani Williams capped the stretch with a fast-break dunk that brought the crowd of nearly 600 back into the game.
The Mariners took their first lead of the half on a three-pointer by Leonard Williams (Providence, R.I./Mount Pleasant) with 3:04 to play. Newbury answered right back with a layup by Shamar Simms (Worcester, Mass./St. Peter Marian) to regain the advantage. A minute later, a spinning basket by Omar Williams made it a 62-59 game with 1:44 left.
Santiago came up big in the final 1:15 of regulation. His offensive rebound and put back cut the deficit to one, and following a Newbury miss, he was fouled with 20 seconds to go. After missing the first, he buried the second freebie to tie the game at 62-62.
The final moments of regulation provided chances for both teams. Mitchell forced a turnover with a half-court trap with 11.9 seconds to go and called time out. Out of the break, Brunson tried to drive the lane as time was winding down, but Roberson poked the ball away to a teammate. He then raced down the court for a chance at the win, but his attempt—which was off the mark—came after the buzzer.
Mitchell won the jump ball to start the extra session and went inside to Santiago for a hoop and a foul. It was the start of an 8-0 run for the Mariners, who also got a three-pointer from Finke during the stretch. Newbury didn't get any closer than five the rest of the way, and Mitchell closed out the game by going 6-for-8 from the foul line in the final 1:02.
The Nighthawks, the first sixth seed in league history to advance to the title game, were hampered by foul trouble all day. Three starters fouled out of the game, and leading scorer Omar Williams was saddled with three fouls in the first half.
Santiago earned a spot on the all-tournament team for the second year in a row and was joined by Brunson, who averaged a team-high 17.7 points per game during the tournament. Rounding out the all-tournament team were Omar Williams, Roberson, Noah Cheney (Eastern Nazarene) and Jason Jones (New England College).
Mitchell's 19 wins tie the school's DIII record for single season victories. The 2013-14 squad, which claimed the program's first NECC title, also finished with 19 wins.