QUINCY, Mass. - Nighthawks senior Omar Williams (Queens, N.Y.) once again had his fingerprints on the outcome of the game, scoring the game-winning layup with 29.7 seconds and blocked the final shot of the game as time expired, as the sixth-seeded Newbury Nighthawks defeated the second-seeded Eastern Nazarene Lions, 74-73, advancing to their first-ever New England Collegiate Conference Championship game in program history.
Williams finished with 23 points in 31 minutes. Williams shot 6-of-13 from the field but 10-of-11 at the line. Senior Pierce Weatherspoon (Hartford, Conn.) scored a game-high 25 points to go with seven rebounds and three blocks. Sophomore Tim Deng (Portland, Maine) went for nine points and 11 rebounds while freshman Shamar Simms (Worcester, Mass.) grabbed 12 rebounds for a second straight game.
Noah Cheney (Bend, Ore.) poured in a team-high 17 points and added five rebounds for the Lions. Josh Rice (Hanson, Mass.) finished with 13 points off the bench. Garrett Crandell (Bristol, Tenn.) posted 11 points and seven boards while Patrick Michel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) chipped in with 11 points off the bench.
Williams pulled the Nighthawks to within one with 35 seconds remaining, forcing a Lions timeout. On the ensuing inbounds play, the Nighthawks trapped the first pass, leading to a turnover and steal by Williams. After gathering, Williams avoided the only defender and made a right-handed layup to give the Nighthawks a 74-73 lead with 29.7 seconds left.
In the Lions next possession, Crandell missed a 12-foot jumper with 4.8 seconds remaining. Simms gathered his 12th rebound and was fouled, resulting in two free throws.
Simms missed both at the line and the rebound found Crandell. In the final seconds, Crandell pulled up from 40 feet, but Williams wouldn't allow the Lions to have the last-second attempt, blocking the shot, as time expired, sealing the Nighthawks victory. The Nighthawks finished the game on an 8-0 run in the final 2:08.
The Lions looked in position to survive and advance to the Championship as they lead by 11 with 6:23 remaining. Newbury pulled to within one possession with 3:08 remaining after a Weatherspoon layup. ENC managed to expand their lead to seven with 2:08 to go, but that would be the last of the Lions scoring on the evening.
Newbury led by four in the middle of the second half, but the Lions used a 16-3 scoring run to take a 62-53 lead, looking as though they would head for the Championship Game.
The win moves the Nighthawks to 12-14 while the loss ends the Eastern Nazarene season at 14-12. Newbury is the only six-seed to ever reach the NECC Championship in the 11-year history of the conference.
Newbury will await the winner of No. 1 New England College and No. 4 Mitchell College to determine their opponent for the Title Game on Saturday.