NH College Basketball: Northeast-10 semis a Manchester gathering
Now in his 28th season, Southern New Hampshire University head coach Stan Spirou still takes nothing for granted. Last Sunday his sixth-ranked Penmen defeated third-ranked University of New Haven and learned on the bus ride home they were going to host a second-round playoff game.
"It's only an advantage if you take advantage of it," said the veteran coach. "It doesn't guarantee you a victory and in our case, if we come into it with a relaxed attitude, the lights will really burn out on us in a hurry."
Six miles apart today at 7 p.m. the Penmen and top-ranked St. Anselm College are hoping homecourt advantage will mean something in their respective Northeast-10 tournament semifinal games.
The Hawks (23-4) will battle fourth-ranked Franklin Pierce University (20-7) at Stoutenburgh Gym while at the Fieldhouse, the Penmen (17-10) host dangerous 10th-ranked College of St. Rose (15-13), which already eliminated No. 2-ranked Assumption and No. 7 Adelphi on the road.
The St. Anselm-Franklin Pierce encounter features two teams likely heading to the NCAA tournament regardless of the winner tonight.
"We're a lock," said FPU head coach Dave Chadbourne. "There's no way we're not getting in."
The top four seeds - Hawks, Ravens, Assumption (20-7) and New Haven (19-8) - all should be locks for the NCAA tournament. The Penmen right now are borderline with 17 wins, and St. Rose would need to win the NE-10 title to get in.
In their last meeting in Rindge on Feb. 16, Franklin Pierce beat St. Anselm, 75-66. The Ravens led by 18 points at one point in the first half, only to see the Hawks rally back to tie the game with nine minutes to play. The Ravens, behind two-time Northeast-10 Player of the Year Eric Jean-Guillaume, who had 26 points, regrouped and won.
"It was one of those games where we started hot and they missed some shots," said Chadbourne. "But as everyone knows, St. Anselm has great chemistry and they're never out of any game because of their offense." St. Anselm beat FPU at home earlier this season on Dec. 1.
Franklin Pierce knocked off No. 5 Southern Connecticut 85-80 last Sunday in the quarterfinals despite getting just four points and no field goals from Jean-Guillaume in the second half.
"Eric does more than just score for us, but it shows we have depth, which is one our strengths as a team," said Chadbourne.
In its 98-85 win against UMass Lowell Sunday, St. Anselm was led by the trio of Chris Santo (29 points), Mike McCahey (27) and Roy Mabrey (26) who combined for 82 points.
The Hawks are 12-1 this season at home, winners of 10 straight at Stoutenburgh Gym.
At the Fieldhouse the Penmen, like most other teams in the league, face a matchup problem against St. Rose center Dominykas Milka, who is averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"We don't have anyone to match up with his body size," said Spirou of Milka, listed at 6-foot-8, 260 pounds. "We can't afford to get into a halfcourt game and allow him to park inside all game long. He even has a nice shooting touch from 15 feet out as well. He's a handful."
The Penmen's 79-75 overtime win was impressive because six players led by Hooksett's Mike Stys finished in double-digit scoring against New Haven, which had won 18 of its last 20 games.
"In terms of balance, it's as good as we can play," said Spirou. "We don't have a team with that one player who can take over a game. But we compensate by depending on one another on both ends of the floor. That's been a strength and it was at its best against New Haven."