COLCHESTER, Vt. - On the heels of picking up two postseason victories in three days, the Saint Michael's College men's basketball team has advanced to the semifinal round of the Northeast-10 Conference Championship for the first time since 2001. The Purple Knights, the fourth seed out of the Northeast Division, head to Northeast No. 2 Saint Anselm College on Wednesday, with tip-off at 7 p.m. The Hawks were the NCAA East Regional Tournament runner up a year ago.
In its first home postseason game in eight years, Saint Michael's rallied past Southwest Division No. 5 The College of Saint Rose, 68-65, on Friday in an NE-10 Championship first-round contest. A 10-0 run in the final seven minutes gave the hosts the lead for good, and the Golden Knights were unable to fire off a tying three-point try in the final minute. On Sunday, the Purple Knights earned an 81-79 win at Southwest No. 1 Southern Connecticut State University, which is ranked 23rd nationally and won the Southwest Division regular-season title, in a quarterfinal. Saint Michael's snapped a tie in the final minute when senior James Cambronne (De Bary, Fla./The Winchendon School) banked home the go-ahead hoop at 54 seconds, kicking off a 6-0 run. The Owls, who won the 2014 NE-10 Championship and NCAA East Regional Tournament to advance to the Elite Eight, scored the next four points but sent a long three-point try wide at the buzzer.
Northeast No. 1 Southern New Hampshire University and Southwest No. 2 American International College meet in the other semifinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Semifinal winners meet on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the title game, with the winner claiming an automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament. Tickets to all games are $8 for adults; $5 for senior citizens 62 and older and children 11 and younger; and $1 for students at NE-10 schools with a valid ID.
The Purple Knights' semifinal will be carried live on Northeast10.tv. They lost both regular-season meetings with the Hawks, falling 90-81 in Colchester on Dec. 3 before suffering a 97-76 setback in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 11. Saint Anselm qualified for the past two NCAA Tournaments as an at-large selection. Only three of the teams' 112 all-time meetings have come in the postseason, with Saint Michael's winning a 1960 NCAA Tournament second-round affair before the Hawks notched NE-10 Championship quarterfinal triumphs in 1989 and 1993.
While winning at least a dozen contests for the second straight season for the first time since 2000-01, the 18-10 Purple Knights have a similar mark to last year's 18-9 squad, which lost its final three contests, including in an NE-10 quarterfinal. This year's team is on a two-game winning streak after a 1-4 stretch, aiming to qualify for a title game for the first time in 14 seasons. The 12-time NCAA Tournament qualifier is 38-35 all time in postseason play, including 12-9 in the semifinal round of tournaments. Wednesday's contest will mark the program's fifth NE-10 semifinal appearance, and just the second on the road, joining the 1994 squad. The Purple Knights have posted nine wins on the road or at neutral sites this season, their most since 2000-01, playing a league-high 17 such contests.
Saint Michael's, which was ranked ninth in the latest NCAA East Region poll, has three seniors scoring in double figures, with Mike Holton Jr. (Portland, Ore./The Winchendon School) leading the way with 15.1 points. The NE-10 All-Conference third team selection is fifth in program history in career scoring (1,742) and has knocked down 61 three-pointers this year. Corey Crawford II (Dover, Del./The Phelps School), who went 6-of-6 on three-pointers at Southern Connecticut State, adds 12.7 points and a team-high 86 assists. Cambronne notches 12.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 21 blocks, standing second in the NE-10 in three-point shooting (45.6%). Cambronne landed an NE-10 All-Conference honorable mention nod.
Sophomore Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) has been a key reserve, posting 9.9 points on 50.5 percent shooting while placing second in the NE-10 in rebounding (9.1) with a league-best 3.7 offensive boards. Seniors Dom Ditlefsen (Portland, Ore./Sunset) and Mike Thompson (Rosedale, N.Y./Christ The King Regional) average 7.5 and 7.8 points, respectively, with Ditlefsen hitting 53 three-pointers, coming up with 21 steals and placing third in the NE-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1), and Thompson taking fourth in the conference by shooting 57.1 percent while snagging 6.4 rebounds. Junior Greg Grippo (Edison, N.J./Rutgers Prep) adds 6.2 points and 41 treys off the bench.