NEW LONDON, Conn. - The No. 4 Mitchell Mariners used an 8-0 run to start overtime and never looked back as they beat the No. 6 Newbury Nighthawks 77-69 on Saturday afternoon in the New England Collegiate Conference Championship Game at the Yarnell Center.
Mariners senior Dominico Santiago (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) finished the game with 16 points and a school-record 25 rebounds. Senior Steffen Brunson (West Haven, Conn.) matched the game-high in scoring, finishing with 20 points. Junior Hasani Williams (Miramar, Fla.) chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Nighthawks senior Pierce Weatherspoon (Hartford, Conn.) finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds in all 45 minutes. Senior Tank Roberson (Pittsfield, Mass.) added 17 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Sophomore Tim Deng (Portland, Maine) finished with 11 points in 22 minutes.
Santiago started the overtime with a layup 12 seconds into the frame, giving Mitchell a 64-62 lead. Brunson added a free throw to give Mitchell a three-point lead and junior Matt Finke (Wolcott, Conn.) made a three-point field goal from the right wing to give Mitchell a 68-62 lead. Williams added two free throws to complete the 8-0 overtime run and give the Mariners a 70-62 lead.
Newbury finally broke through with 1:26 remaining to cut the deficit to six on a pair of Roberson free throws. Williams added another foul shot for Mitchell to give the Mariners a 71-64 lead. The Nighthawks would only get as close as five late in overtime after a Roberson layup made it 71-66.
Foul shots sealed the game for the Mariners, who outscored the Nighthawks 15-7 in the overtime session. Brunson, Williams, and Santiago combined for 10 of the Mariners 15 overtime points.
The Mariners found themselves down nine, 55-46, with 6:59 remaining. Mitchell turned to a zone defense to try and contain the Nighthawks and found success with the decision as the offense of Mitchell began to pick up steam.
"The biggest thing for us was moving to that zone defense," said Mariners Head Coach Todd Peretz. "We couldn't keep Newbury's perimeter players in front of us and they are just so so good and then Tim Deng starts making some shots and it just wasn't a good fit."
Mitchell erased the nine-point deficit with a 13-3 run over the span of 3:55 to take a one-point lead, 59-58.
"We have a drill called three stops," said Peretz. "And all we talked about was three stops. Getting three stops in a row and I told (the players) 'three stop drill, three stop drill' and just go that route and the guys bought into it."
Tied at 62-62 with 11 seconds remaining, the Nighthawks were in control of the possession but a held ball and arrow favoring Mitchell gave the Mariners the chance at a final, game-winning possession. Following the inbound play, Weatherspoon forced a turnover with 2.8 seconds remaining and threw the ball ahead to Roberson, but he couldn't catch up with the pass in time to get a final shot in regulation as the horn sounded.
Santiago, who was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, played all 45 minutes in the Mariners win. He believes the competitive nature of Peretz's three stop drill made the comeback possible.
"The three stop drill is our most competitive drill in practice," said Santiago. "It's a 12-minute drill and it's hard to play defense for that long... but we use that as a mark that when we reach a certain point we know we have to get three stops. Whenever we're down less than 10 points, it's always three stops."
For the Nighthawks, they became the first-ever six-seed to reach the NECC Tournament Final and Head Coach Rich Fazzi acknowledges the difficulty of the Newbury 2018-19 season.
"I'm just so proud of these young men and what they did out there," said Fazzi. " Given the difficult situation we faced, the energy and hustle that we showed this season was more than I could have expected. This team put in the work and deserved to get to this game."
The win pushes the Mariners to 19-9 while also receiving the NECC's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament. The Nighthawks dream run ends at 12-15. The 12 wins are the most since the 2012-13 season. These Nighthawks will go down as the only men's basketball team to reach the conference championship game.
Mitchell will await there opponent for the First Round of the National Tournament. The NCAA Selection Show is Monday, February 25 at 12:30 p.m., exclusively on NCAA.com.