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March 07. 2013 8:55PM

College Basketball: SNHU, Spirou in familiar territory


SNHU's Elijah Bonsignore goes for a slam after getting a dish from Michael Stys of Hooksett during practice in Manchester on Thursday. The team was preparing for Saturday's Northeast-10 Conference men's basketball championship against in-state rival Franklin Pierce. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

NE-10 Championship

No. 6 Southern New Hampshire (18-10) at No. 4 Franklin Pierce (21-7)

When: Saturday, The Fieldhouse, Rindge, 1 p.m.

Leading scorers: SNHU - Rodney Sanders, 12.0 ppg; B.J. Cardarelli, 11.6 ppg; Mike Stys, 11.6 ppg; FPU - Eric Jean-Guillaume, 16.5 ppg; Ellis Cooper, 13.8 ppg; Ryen Vilmont, 11.5 ppg

How they got here: SNHU beat New Haven, 79-75 (OT), and beat Saint Rose, 81-62; FPU defeated Southern Connecticut, 85-80, and defeated St. Anselm, 71-68.

Notes: FPU won both regular-season contests against SNHU, including a 61-57 victory at Manchester on Feb. 13. Franklin Pierce will be making its first appearance in the NE-10 final while SNHU makes its third.

SNHU in the conference finals
New England Collegiate Conference
1986:
Sacred Heart 91, SNHU 82
1990: SNHU 85, Bridgeport 84
1993: SNHU 76, Franklin Pierce 71
1994: SNHU 78, Franklin Pierce 77
1995: SNHU 84, Sacred Heart 75
1998: SNHU 81, Franklin Pierce 69
1999: SNHU 82, Franklin Pierce 68

Northeast-10
2003:
UMass Lowell 77, SNHU 66
2004: UMass Lowell 67, SNHU 63
2013: SNHU vs. Franklin Pierce

Back in the day, Southern New Hampshire University played in a conference final so many times that it nearly became part of the permanent schedule. Now a seasoned and scheming coach Stan Spirou is up to his old tricks.

The Penmen (18-10), coming off an 81-62 triumph against Saint Rose on Wednesday, play in the Northeast-10 Conference final at Franklin Pierce University (21-7) on Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.

Spirou's teams have reached the conference finals 10 times in his 28-year career.

In the 1990s, then-New Hampshire College and Franklin Pierce met four times in the New England Collegiate Conference tournament championship. The Penmen won all four times and reached new heights in 1993, advancing to the NCAA Tournament Final Four. SNHU advanced to the national semifinals again in 1994 and went on to make three consecutive appearances in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Familiar turf, indeed. At least for Spirou.

"Some of our key guys don't have experience playing in big games at this level, but you hope they don't know any better, and it's just another game because they've played in winning environments throughout their careers," Spirou said. "Our freshmen and sophomores haven't shown any panic in the past four or five games, and that's a pretty good sign. That has nothing to do with coaching. It's the makeup of the kids and how they've developed more maturity deeper into the season."

In the NE-10 semifinals, freshman Rodney Sanders poured in a career-high 22 points to lead SNHU against St. Rose. Sanders leads the Penmen in scoring at 12.0 points per game, followed by sophomore B.J. Cardarelli (11.6 ppg) and Manchester Central product Mike Stys (11.6 ppg).

Franklin Pierce, led by senior Eric Jean-Guillaume, earned homecourt advantage in the NE-10 final by defeating St. Anselm College, 71-68, at Stoutenburgh Gym in Goffstown on Wednesday.

Last week, Jean-Guillaume was named Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.

"We don't have an all-league player or All-American on our roster," Spirou said. "The only way we have a chance is if six or seven guys play a solid 40 minutes of basketball."

St. Anselm College (23-5), ranked ninth in the nation, is expected to receive an at-large NCAA Tournament bid when the pairings are announced March 16.



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