NEW LONDON, Conn. – Second-seeded Mitchell College outlasted a slugfest with third-seeded Eastern Nazarene College on Thursday night, posting a 73-69 victory in the semifinals of the 2020 New England Collegiate Conference Men's Basketball Championship at the Yarnall Athletic Center.
The Mariners (12-14 overall) advance to the NECC finals for the second straight season and will have a chance to defend their title. Top-seeded New England College, which held off fourth-seeded Dean College in the night's other semifinal, will host the title game on Saturday, February 29 (time TBD).
Matt Finke (Wolcott, Conn./Wolcott) paced Mitchell with 18 points and shot 4-for-9 from deep. Malik Chase (Providence, R.I./Classical) hit a trio of threes en route to 17 points, and Connel Henderson (Old Saybrook, Conn./Old Saybrook) hit a huge three late and came up with a big steal in the closing seconds.
Three Eastern Nazarene players finished in double digits with Garrett Crandell (Bristol, Tenn./Bristol Tennessee) supplying a game-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds. Noah Chaney (Bend, Ore./Mountain View) added 12 points and six rebounds while Josh Rice (Hanson, Mass./Whitman-Hanson) scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
Mitchell led by as many as seven in the first half but never pulled away. Rice was whistled for two quick fouls and sat the majority of the period, though Cheney picked up the slack by scoring all 12 of his points before the break to keep the Lions close.
A last-second put-back by Chase left Mitchell with a 34-31 lead at intermission. Finke scored eight points in the stanza to pace the Mariners.
ENC made its move midway through the second half thanks to seven unanswered points. After Jacob Waldroop (Newland, N.C./Avery County) buried a three to snap a 50-50 deadlock, Rice cashed in on a four-point play to give the Lions a 57-50 advantage with 7:51 to go.
Mitchell responded right away, getting threes by Chase and Finke to close the gap to one. The Mariners later regained the lead for good on a trey by Leonard Williams (Providence, R.I./Mount Pleasant) with 3:46 remaining that made it 62-61. On Mitchell's next possession Williams drilled another three to make it a four-point game.
Henderson's big three came with 1:37 to play and gave the Mariners a 68-63 cushion. However, Crandell rattled home a three on the ensuing ENC possession to keep things close.
Crandell came through with another big play with 48 seconds left, completing an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the deficit to one. Waldroop then came up with steal to give the Lions what appeared to be the final possession of the game and a chance at the win.
Henderson had other ideas, as he picked Waldroop's pocket after he crossed the midcourt stripe. He then fed Chase on the break for a lay-up that made it 72-69. With an opportunity left to tie the game, ENC brought the ball down the floor but was called for a travel on the sidelines with 6.2 seconds remaining. Finke sewed up the victory by hitting one of two at the line to send the Mariners back to the title game.
Mitchell held an 18-8 scoring edge in points off turners thanks to forcing 19 ENC miscues. The margin helped make up for a poor showing from the free throw line, where the Mariners shot just 8-for-19.
ABOUT THE NECC
The NECC began competition in the 2008-09 academic year and current member institutions compete across 15 sports. The NECC membership focuses on providing athletic competition among institutions that share similar academic aspirations and are committed to the importance of the total educational experience for students engaged in sports. Current members include Bay Path University, Becker College, Dean College, Eastern Nazarene College, Elms College, Lesley University, Mitchell College and New England College.
(Story courtesy of Mitchell Sports Information)