Southern New Hampshire University beats Franklin Pierce for Northeast-10 basketball title
RINDGE - In more than 30 years as a head basketball coach, Stan Spirou had never been soaked by the Gatorade cooler. After all, it's a tradition usually reserved for football.
But this year's 2012-13 Southern New Hampshire University men's basketball team, a preseason pick to finish 12th in the conference, does nothing by the book.
SNHU, led by clutch shot maker B.J. Cardarelli's 23 points, won the Northeast-10 Conference championship by defeating host Franklin Pierce, 85-74, on Saturday at The Fieldhouse.
The No. 6 seed Penmen (19-10) won their sixth straight game and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament, which begins on Saturday. The NCAA Selection Show is tonight at 10:30, and can bee seen on the internet at ncaa.com.
"Not many people gave us a chance at the beginning of the season. As a matter of fact, not many people would have given us a chance two or three weeks ago," said Spirou, who captured his first NE-10 title. "I have to give these guys a lot of credit. It's a special group that took all 13 guys to accomplish what we accomplished today."
Fourth-seed Franklin Pierce, who is expected to receive an at-large bid in the NCAA tourney, dropped to 21-8. Ellis Cooper led the Ravens with 23 point, while NE-10 Player of the Year Eric Jean-Guillaume added 15 points.
"This hurts. After all the work we put into the season, we wanted the championship," Jean-Guillaume said. "(SNHU) deserved it. Those guys wanted it more."
SNHU freshman Rodney Sanders scored 17 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the NE-10 tournament. Manchester Central product Mike Stys had 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds, while Elijah Bonsignore (11 points) was yet another Penmen in double figures.
Stys and point guard C.J. Marriro (six points, six assists) were responsible for the midcourt Gatorade bath that soaked the 61-year-old coach and some of his grandchildren.
"It's was so worth it," said Stys while helping clean up the mess.
Stys played a superb first half and gave the Penmen a bit of swagger after the opening tip. The Hooksett product scored SNHU's first four points, including a pretty fadeaway as both teams swapped early punches.
A fastbreak slam by Cooper gave the Ravens a 12-10 lead with 14:00 minutes remaining, but Stys answered at the other end with a 3-pointer that touched nothing but twine. Falling shots were contagious.
Phillip Tripodakis added a trifecta as SNHU orchestrated a 10-0 run. From there, the Penmen outworked FPU for the remainder of the half and took a 38-24 lead into the locker room at halftime. Cardarelli netted a game-high 13 points in the first 20 minutes, including a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:32 remaining.
When would the Ravens and their Player of the Year make a run? SNHU upped the lead to 15 points (58-45) before FPU made one final push with 10:45 remaining. Jean-Guillaume knocked down a three. Scotty Tavares-Taylor hit a three.
The Ravens, however, trailed by at least seven points for the entire half. Cardarelli hit a shot clock-expiring 3-pointer in the final minute to keep SNHU's lead at double digits.
"They made stops. Different guys made plays to keep us going," Spirou said. "In the past, we've had a player that might be able to take over the game. Not this year. They all did it together."
SNHU shot a blistering 57.1 percent in the first half and finished the game at 54.9 percent. Cardarelli made six of his first eight shots. The Penmen made 21 of 24 free throws.
"We came out flat and fell behind by too much," Jean-Guillaume said. "We've been down many times this season and were able to come back, but (SNHU) didn't let up."
The Penmen return to the NCAA Tournament for the 17th time in program history. Spirou, in his 28th season, has made 15 trips to the big dance.
"It's unbelievable," Spirou said. "These kids are something else."