Paul Hogan

NHTI coach Paul Hogan instructs his players during a game earlier this season.

Paul Hogan is close to collecting the 600th victory of his college basketball coaching career, and he has some extra incentive to reach that milestone this season.

If Hogan does pick up his 600th coaching victory before the 2018-19 season concludes, it means his NHTI men’s basketball team will have advanced to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) national championship game. Sixth-seeded NHTI earned a bye for the 10-team tournament’s opening round and will face third-seeded Penn State Wilkes-Barre today in Uniontown, Pa. (6 p.m.).

Hogan, a Plymouth resident who is in his 20th season as NHTI’s head coach (he’s also the school’s director of athletics), currently has 598 victories in a career that includes a 136-80 record in eight seasons as the head coach at Plymouth State University. Last month, at the annual Leaders banquet, Hogan earned the James W. Desmarais Special Recognition Award from the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

Southern New Hampshire’s Stan Spriou, who retired with 640 career victories, and Saint Anselm’s Keith Dickson are the only New Hampshire men’s college basketball coaches who have won at least 600 games. Dickson has 639 victories entering today’s Northeast-10 Conference quarterfinal at home against Southern Connecticut State.

“What I really focus on is the next win,” Hogan said. “I try to enjoy each team, and this has been a really fun team.”

Hogan, 61, directed NHTI (27-4) to a 31-3 record in 2005, when it won the USCAA championship. This year’s team won the Yankee Small College Conference tournament for the second year in a row, and ranks first among USCAA teams in both scoring (98.2 points per game) and rebounding (46.2).

“We can get up and down the floor … that’s probably our strength,” Hogan said. “We’re fast, we’re athletic and we can shoot the ball. We’re exciting to watch.”

J’Quavious Thurmond, a 6-foot-4, sophomore forward, and Deric Jackson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward, are the pistons that make this engine go. Thurmond was named to the Yankee Small College Conference First Team and enters tonight’s game averaging 17.8 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game. Jackson is averaging 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest.

Jackson hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give NHTI an 83-81 victory over Central Maine Community College in the YSCC semifinals. He was named the tournament’s top defensive player, and Thurmond was selected as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

NHTI also gets a spark off the bench from freshman guard Richie Mercado, who played high school basketball at Nashua South.

“Richie has had a tremendous year for us,” Hogan said. “He’s our shooter off the bench.”

NHTI will have to win three games to bring home the tournament title.

“The competition is very good,” Hogan said. “You have to play well to win.

“I think we have a good chance to advance (to the semifinals). This is the best group of guys we’ve had in about seven years and we’re not relying on one player. We have depth.”

NHTI also has a coach who clearly knows what it takes to win.