By Matt Noonan (@MattNoonan11)
The third round – or as some call it, ‘the sweet 16’ – is set to begin tomorrow as 32 NCAA Division III basketball teams (16 men’s and 16 women’s), including 10 New England squads, continue their quest toward the ultimate prize, a national championship.
At Babson College, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will be in action tomorrow – it is the first-time in school history that both teams will be competing in the ‘sweet 16’ in the same season.
“It’s been a great environment, everybody has been rallying around the two teams,” said Babson women’s basketball coach Judy Blinstrub. “It is really a great atmosphere on campus right now.”
Added Babson men’s basketball coach Stephen Brennan, “I think there is a lot of good energy on campus. We’re really excited for the women’s team for winning the NEWMAC Championship, they have had such a good season.”
Last weekend, Blinstrub’s squad earned a pair of impressive wins, including a dramatic overtime victory over host FDU-Florham, which saw first-year Jacqueline Jozefick net the game-winning lay-up with five seconds remaining in the extra session.
The win over FDU-Florham earned the Beavers a date with Amherst College, which secured back-to-back wins last weekend over Mary Washington and Regis College.
Both Babson and Amherst competed against each other earlier this season with the Purple & White claiming a 67-62 victory.
“It was a great weekend for us,” said Blinstrub of her team’s first-and-second round wins. “I am just so happy for the team … this is a great situation to be in, playing in (the ‘sweet 16’) and I think they’ll rise to the occasion.”
As for Brennan’s unit, they earned two hard-fought wins last weekend, beginning with a 92-76 win over Husson University followed by a 72-65 victory against Skidmore College.
Against the Thoroughbreds, Babson senior Joey Flannery recorded a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds, while sinking the game’s final three free throws.
“I thought that down the stretch our defense, talk and toughness helped us overcome a slow start to the second half,” Brennan said of his team’s seven-point win over Skidmore.
Similar to the women’s team, the men’s team will meet a familiar foe on Friday, as Babson will welcome Tufts University to Babson Park with tip-off scheduled for 8:00 p.m.
The Jumbos, who earned a second meeting with the Beavers this season, scored a pair of first and second round wins last weekend, defeating Salem State University, 84-81, before knocking off host St. John Fisher, thanks to a game-high 37 points from junior Vincent Pace.
“We have a lot of familiarity (with the Jumbos),” said Brennan, “but it still comes down to how you’re going to play on Friday.”
A win for the Beavers would send them to the sectional finals – it would be the program’s second appearance in three seasons. They would face the winner of Christopher Newport-Keene State, which will play the first game at 5:00 p.m. – both sectional semifinals will take place at Babson.
Keene State, which earned a trip to the ‘big dance’ for the third consecutive season, claimed a pair of big wins last weekend, defeating Amherst, 69-66, before edging Ramapo, 92-91, in overtime. First-year Jake Collagan’s go-ahead triple with 48 seconds remaining in the additional frame helped the Owls secure the win.
Last season, Christopher Newport defeated Keene State in the ‘round of 16,’ thanks to team-high 22 points from current junior Marcus Carter. The Captains would win their following contest – an ‘elite eight’ victory over Wooster before concluding their season in the semifinals to the eventual champions, the University of St. Thomas.
In addition to a pair of men’s basketball games at Babson, Middlebury College will host a sectional semifinal against Endicott College – both teams met earlier this season with the Gulls claiming a 93-89 victory in Vermont. Williams College and Susquehanna University will also compete in Vermont – the winners of both games will square-off on Saturday in the sectional finals.
Middlebury, which captured its second-straight New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championship two weeks ago, scored a pair of back-to-back wins last weekend, defeating Farmingdale State (84-75) and Lycoming (95-76). Both wins occurred in Vermont.
The Gulls, who earned an at-large bid to this year’s tournament, made history last weekend, knocking off both Salisbury University and Nichols College en route to the program’s initial ‘sweet 16’ appearance. Endicott senior Max Motroni led the Green and Blue with a game and season-high 34 points as the Gulls defeated the Bison, 111-75.
“We are just thrilled to still be playing and having another week together,” said Endicott men’s basketball coach Kevin Bettencourt.
A big reason Endicott has enjoyed an exciting tournament run thus far is because of the squad’s senior class – six student-athletes, to be exact. They were all sophomores when Bettencourt arrived on campus in August 2014, and have helped the Gulls take a step forward each season toward the program’s ultimate goal of a national championship.
“Our seniors just love playing basketball together,” said Bettencourt, “so it was really special to see it all come together as a whole last weekend.”
In addition to the seniors, a few New England coaches, including Nichols men’s basketball coach Tom Glynn, credit Endicott’s success to Bettencourt – they certainly know the impact he has made on the program.
“Kevin has elevated the program at Endicott and our league to new levels with his accomplishments since taking over the program in 2014,” said Glynn. “I have so much respect for him as a coach, and his teams are always difficult to prepare for, and his players represent his program with class, which is a testament to his leadership.”
Added Salem State coach Chris Harvey, “His teams play hard, are fundamentally sound and truly play for each other. Kevin is a great teacher of the game and allows his players to use their creativity as well, too.”
Switching to the women’s tournament, Tufts will look to continue their march toward a spot in next weekend’s semifinals when they face the University of Scranton on Friday with tip-off scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
The contest between Tufts and Scranton will take place at Washington University.
Last season, the Jumbos defeated the Royals in the sectional finals, thanks to senior Michela North (13 points and 10 rebounds) and junior Melissa Baptista (23 points). Both players combined for 19 points and 20 rebounds in their second round clash last weekend with Husson as Tufts scored a 64-44 win in Medford.
Said North, “We had a battle against (Scranton) last year, so I’m really excited to play them again.”
A win for the Jumbos would set-up a sectional final against either host Washington University or Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Finally, one should not overlook the UMass Dartmouth women’s basketball team, which also made history last weekend, defeating La Roche and Montclair State to earn a trip to this weekend’s third round in Amherst.
Matt Ducharme’s Corsairs, who earned an at-large bid to this year’s tournament, scored a pair of exciting wins, defeating La Roche and host Montclair State. UMass Dartmouth collaborated for 71 points in each game.
“It was a surreal moment at the time when we won our second round contest,” said Ducharme. “I just remember saying, ‘wow,’ and I don’t want this to stop.”
That euphoric feeling – or not wanting this exciting run to conclude – will be put to the test tomorrow when the Corsairs attempt to take another step forward toward next weekend’s semifinals.
Standing in their way: SUNY New Paltz, which captured back-to-back contests last weekend against Bowdoin College and Ithaca College.
Similar to the Corsairs, this will be the Hawks’ first-ever appearance in the ‘round of 16.’
A win for the Corsairs – or the Hawks – would set-up an exciting sectional final against either host Amherst or Babson. UMass Dartmouth played Babson earlier this season, defeating the Beavers, 70-62.
In their first round contest against La Roche, UMass Dartmouth struggled in the opening quarter – they trailed, 23-12. Yet, once the so-called ‘nerves’ disappeared, the Corsairs found their groove en route to an exciting 71-64 win.
The following evening against Montclair State, UMass Dartmouth raced out to a 10-point lead (23-13) – the game featured four lead changes and three ties – and kept the momentum heading into the final session.
Although, once Montclair State pulled within two-points (51-49) early in the fourth quarter, Ducharme called a timeout – he and the squad hoped the short breather would halt the Red Hawks’ comeback.
And it certainly did.
UMass Dartmouth responded with a 9-5 spurt, which helped the Corsairs eventually pull away and claim a 71-63 victory.
Said Ducharme of his team’s fourth quarter timeout, “I remember saying that no team is going to give you a shot at the ‘sweet 16,’ so if you want this game, then you have to take it and finish it … I was so proud of the way our team contained (Montclair State’s) runs down the stretch, too.”
Once the final horn sounded, UMass Dartmouth celebrated the exciting victory – again, no Corsairs squad has reached the ‘sweet 16’ in program history, so Ducharme, along with his players and assistant coach Jess Shiel know this run has been very exciting, but the focus must remain on their next opponent.
“There is no easy games at this point of the season and there is no looking to tomorrow,” said Shiel, “so you have to keep the focus on the next game.”