Mitchell men overcome adversity to advance in NECC tournament
New London — Mitchell College entered Tuesday's game dealing with the lingering effects of the flu bug and some nagging injuries.
And it showed.
The third-seeded Mariners looked ragged at times but played just well enough during stretches to secure a 70-49 victory over No. 6 Elms College in a New England College Conference men's basketball tournament quarterfinal game at Yarnall Athletic Center.
"I don't even know if everybody is at 100 percent," coach Todd Peretz said. "It was a grind it out kind of game. It wasn't pretty. There were spurts where we played really, really well and showed why we were vying for one of the top two spots and getting a bye."
They really could have used a first-round bye to give their ailing players a few extra days to recover. But losing the regular-season finale to Becker College on Saturday dropped Mitchell to the third seed.
The disappointment over the impact of that loss affected their play on Tuesday, according to Peretz.
"We were still feeling the letdown of not getting that bye," Peretz said. "If we don't play better on Thursday, then our year is done. That's kind of the message that we're sending the guys."
Mitchell (14-12) plays at No. 2 Becker (14-11) Thursday night in the NECC semifinals in Worcester. The two teams split the two regular-season meetings.
"That's a big game for us," senior Brayvon Young said. "We definitely needed to be locked in for that one. I think we have a good chance of winning the tournament. We just have to all do our part and just keep pushing."
In Tuesday's game, Mitchell quickly built a 10-point edge and led 36-23 at intermission. Both teams suffered through prolonged scoring droughts in the first half. Elms scored just one field goal in almost eight minutes, but Mitchell added just eight points to its lead.
Elms (4-22), which lost the regular-season series, lacked the firepower to close the gap. The Blazers crumbled in the face of a trapping defense, finishing with more turnovers (20) than field goals made (19), shooting just 31.7 percent from the field overall. The Mariners scored 22 points off those turnovers.
A late spurt helped turn a relatively close game into a comfortable victory. Leading 57-43, the Mariners took off on an 8-2 run.
Young's 3-pointer started the spurt. Sophomore Matt Finke set up junior Domenico Santiago for an inside bucket for a 62-43 cushion with 2:59 left.
Young carried the scoring torch down the stretch, scoring 11 of his 14 points in the final 3:33.
"I started off slow and the shots weren't falling," Young said. "But I just know as a shooter I've got to keep shooting. I'm glad they started falling at the end."
Peretz has noticed Young playing with a sense of urgency that comes with being a senior.
"He's starting to realize there's not a lot left," Peretz said. "He's a four-year senior, a kid who has come up through the program. As a freshman, he never got off the bench. As a sophomore, he got a little spot time. Then, the last couple of years, he has played significant minutes and played a significant role."
Young was one of four Mariners to score in double figures. Sophomore Hasani Williams, who's just coming off the flu, chipped in 16 points, nine rebounds and three steals while junior Steffen Brunson had 10 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals and Santiago had a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds. Starters accounted for all but six points.
Santiago, Mitchell's reliable low post force and the league's top rebounder, was productive despite being hobbled by a hamstring injury. But he's not the same player.
"It's obviously better when he keeps moving and gets it warm," Peretz said. "As soon as he sits, he stiffens up and struggles with it. He just can't move. He's not freakishly athletic to begin with or explosive, but he's got really, really good feet around the basket. If he can't do that, it hinders what he can do."
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