When and Where: March 5, 2016 – Waltham, Mass. (Dana Center)
Score: Southern New Hampshire University 90, Bentley University 87
Records: SNHU 22-10, Bentley 21-8
It wouldn't have been fitting had the 2015-16 Southern New Hampshire University men's basketball team's final game of the Northeast-10 Championship not included a heart-pumping ending. Another road game and another down-to-the-wire win for the Penmen.
Redshirt-sophomore Chris Walters (Stamford, Conn.) scored a team-high 19 points as Southern New Hampshire outlasted Bentley University, 90-87, in the Northeast-10 Championship title game on Saturday afternoon at an electric Dana Center.
The Penmen, seeded fourth in the Northeast Division, capture their second Northeast-10 crown after winning their first in another road victory at Franklin Pierce University back in 2013. SNHU earns the league's automatic qualifier and will now await its seeding for the NCAA East Regional, which will be announced on Sunday night's (10:30 p.m.) NCAA Tournament Selection Show. Bentley, the Northeast's top seed, loses for just the third time in 16 games at home this season and will also be watching Sunday to learn its fate.
Walters shot 5-for-7 from the field, including 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, and was 7-for-8 from the line to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Senior BJ Cardarelli (Manchester, Conn.) produced a big game, scoring 17 points (7-10 FG, 3-4 3-FG), including 11 in the first half, and snatching six rebounds, while classmate Rodney Sanders (Elizabeth, N.J.), despite playing just 23 minutes due to foul trouble, registered 15 points (5-13 FG, 2-5 3-FG, 3-4 FT), seven rebounds and three assists. Freshman Daquaise Andrews (Queens, N.Y.) turned in a big performance in Sanders' absence as he posted 13 points (3-10 FG, 7-8 FT), nine boards and four helpers.
Keegan Hyland paced Bentley with 21 points, including 13 in the opening stanza, while Tyler McFarland netted 17 points and Alex Furness added 15.
With Bentley leading 64-63 at the 13-minute mark of the second half, a 12-4 run from the Penmen, which included seven points from Andrews, put SNHU on top, 75-68, midway through the frame. An Andrews tip-in with 12:59 to play put Southern New Hampshire up one and Bentley would never lead again.
The Falcons would respond, however, with a 7-0 counter-run that featured four points from McFarland and knotted the game at 75-all with under eight minutes to play. With the game still tied nearly three minutes later, a huge trey from junior Devin Gilligan (Amherst, N.H.) triggered a 5-0 spurt that put the Penmen up, 82-77, with 2:40 on the clock.
The teams then swapped 3-pointers, but another triple from McFarland pulled Bentley within 85-83 with 1:32 to go. Walters made a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game, but a Furness layup cut it back to two with 24 seconds left. After Andrews made two more at the line, Furness again converted a bucket and the SNHU lead was down to a pair at 89-87 with four seconds remaining.
Sanders, who played just nine minutes in the second half, was fouled and sent to the line where he would make one of two to keep it a one-possession game with 3.9 seconds to play, but Bentley's desperation heave from over half court was off the mark and the Penmen escaped with yet another pulse-pounding victory.
Gilligan tallied eight points (2-5 FG, 2-4 3-FG, 2-4 FT), four rebounds and three assists in the win, while classmate junior Adrian Oliveira (Pawtucket, R.I.) added eight points (4-7 FG), three rebounds and two helpers. Fellow junior Jerome Harris (Hartford, Conn.) also chipped in eight points (3-5 FG, 2-4 3-FG).
Southern New Hampshire scored the first two points of the game, but 3-pointers from Furness and Hyland powered a 10-2 run that gave Bentley a six-point lead less than three minutes into the contest.
With the lead at five nearly seven minutes later, back-to-back 3-pointers from Harris and Gilligan sparked an 8-0 rush that was capped by a pair of Gilligan free throws, which put SNHU in front, 25-22, with 8:46 to play in the opening half.
The gap was still three when buckets from Oliveira and Sanders handed the Penmen their largest lead of the half at 39-32 with just over four minutes to go. Bentley, buoyed by five points from McFarland, closed the half on a 13-4 tear to send the game to the break, knotted at 45.
Bentley held a 51-50 lead nearly two minutes into the second stanza when 3-pointers from Walters and Cardarelli bookended an 8-2 run that opened a 58-53 advantage for the Penmen with 16:13 remaining. The lead was still five over a minute later when four different scorers combined for a 9-3 stretch that gave the Falcons what would be their final lead of the afternoon at 64-63 with 13:17 remaining.
-Southern New Hampshire is now 2-for-its-last-2 in Northeast-10 title games after coming up empty on trips to the 'ship in 2003 and 2004.
-It is SNHU's eighth league title overall as it won six championships (1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999) in the now-defunct New England Collegiate Conference (NECC).
-Southern New Hampshire becomes the first team since the Northeast-10 moved to division play to knock out both top seeds in a single Northeast-10 Championship. The Penmen beat Southwest No. 5 American International College at home, then toppled Southern Connecticut State University (SW #1) and Saint Anselm College (NE #2) on the road before vanquishing top-seeded Bentley in the title game.
-SNHU joins Adelphi University (2011) as the only other team to win four games in a single Northeast-10 Championship, with three of those wins coming on the road. (UMass Lowell (2010; two road wins) and Assumption (2009; one road win) have also captured four victories in a single NE-10 postseason. Adelphi also won three road games in 2010, but lost the championship on the road to narrowly miss out on being the only team to go 4-for-4.
-Sanders was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 Northeast-10 Championship, while Walters, Hyland, McFarland and Stonehill College's Logan Ryan joined him on the All-Championship Team.
-SNHU has won 12 of its last 14 games, including seven of eight and five straight.
-Southern New Hampshire is now 19-11 (.633) all-time in the Northeast-10 Championship, including 2-2 in the finals, 3-2 against Bentley and 1-2 at the Dana Center. SNHU has won nine of its last 11 games in the conference tournament, including 5 of 6 on the road.
-Southern New Hampshire outshot Bentley, 51.7 percent (30-58) to 44.6 percent (29-65), including 47.8 percent (11-23) to 40.7 percent (11-27). Bentley held a slight advantage at the line, shooting 78.3 percent (18-23) to SNHU's 76 percent (19-25).
-The Penmen captured the glass (36-33), while the Falcons won the paint (28-22) and produced a slightly better assist-to-turnover ratio (14/6 – 17/8).
-Sanders now has 623 points this season, which ranks fourth in school history and is just 72 points shy of the record.
-Walters has now registered double digits in points in 16 consecutive games he has played in.
The Penmen will be back in action Saturday, March 12 in an NCAA East Regional quarterfinal. The Penmen find out where they will be playing, where they will be seeded and who their first opponent will be on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show that will air HERE on Sunday, March 6 (10:30 p.m.)
For the latest on Southern New Hampshire University athletics, follow the Penmen via social media on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. Sign up to receive text message alerts and e-mail newsletters about your favorite Penmen teams here.