LEICESTER, Mass. – New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) men's basketball playoff action is headed back to Bennington this year as Southern Vermont College secured a home game in the upcoming postseason tournament with a 97-78 road win over Becker College at Leicester Gymnasium Wednesday night.
After the Mountaineers went into the locker room with a close 49-44 lead, SVC senior Rayshawn Taylor (Silver Spring, Md.) notched his 1,000th career point to help his team open up its separation to as many as 21 before closing out the big win.
When the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017, SVC was sitting in the bottom of the league standings after losing its first two Conference contests of the season. Since then, however, the Mountaineers have rallied for 11-straight NECC victories to jump up to the top; Southern Vermont (13-9 overall) and Becker are now tied at 11-2 against the league, but SVC owns the tie-breaker after defeating the Hawks twice in three days for the season sweep.
With its mark in Conference play, Southern Vermont is guaranteed a home playoff game the week of February 20; the question remaining is whether that will be a first-round contest on Tuesday or a semifinal matchup on Thursday. SVC is next in action this Saturday when the Mountaineers host Wheelock College for Senior Day and a 3 p.m. tip-off. A win against the Wildcats would lock up a first-round bye and an automatic trip back to the semis for Southern Vermont.
Taylor finished Wednesday night with 19 points— giving him 1,005 for his SVC career. He is the 11th player in team history to reach the milestone, doing it with 13.8 points per game through 73 contests.
"I could not be more proud of Rayshawn's accomplishment and his development on, and off, the court," commented Southern Vermont fourth-year head coach Dan Engelstad. "He's come a long way in his career at SVC. He's one of the best scorers of the basketball in the country, and for him to do this in just three years is quite a feat. He's playing basketball at a very high clip and has had arguably one of the better careers at Southern Vermont.
"When games are close, you look to guys to step up; Ray has made shots when we need it, and he's one of the most elite competitors we've had," Engelstad continued. "When the moment comes that a big play is needed, Rayshawn steps up. He was one of my first recruits, and I knew he had a lot of talent. To see him live up to that talent— and at this point, exceeding it— is very rewarding for our staff. We're really excited to honor him on Senior Day for this accomplishment and his career as a whole."
Leading the way for Southern Vermont Wednesday was senior Nate Goldsmith (Capitol Heights, Md.) who had 24 points in addition to his four rebounds. Junior Mike Pierre (Melrose, N.Y.) followed with 23 points, six assists and a team-leading 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the year while classmate Claude Payne (South Plainfield, N.J.) added 11 points and three boards in the effort. Sophomore Josh Borders (Miami, Fla.) chipped in with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists.
The Mountaineers scored their most points this season while shooting 58 percent (40-69) from the floor; SVC held Becker to a 39.7 percent (29-73) clip on field goal attempts. The Hawks grabbed a slim 41-38 edge in rebounds, but Southern Vermont moved the ball better to tally 20 assists to Becker's 10. The visitors committed only eight turnovers and used Becker's 10 to outscore the Hawks 17-11 in points off giveaways.
Taylor got his night going with a triple off a Pierre pass to put his team in front 5-4, but Becker came back with six unanswered points to take the upper hand. Three Mountaineers helped SVC answer with six straight of its own, and scoring went back-and-forth over the next few minutes as the teams traded blows. Pierre and Taylor connected for back-to-back buckets to claim a four-point edge, only to see the Hawks close the gap and even it up at 26-26 with 7:30 left in the first half.
That would the final tie of the game, however, as Borders, Taylor and Payne each found the bottom of the basket on consecutive trips down the floor to give the visitors some separation. Borders drilled a three before Goldsmith added a layup as SVC bumped its advantage into double digits late in the period. Becker stormed back with seven unanswered to stay within striking distance, and scores were traded in the final minute as Goldsmith knocked down back-to-back treys to help the Mountaineers bring a five-point lead into the break.
The Hawks kept pace through the opening five minutes of the second half before Taylor etched himself into the Southern Vermont record books. Fellow senior Brandon Casella (Pittsfield, Mass.) took the ball from the left edge of the arc and drove towards the hoop— drawing in defenders before dishing it back out to an open Taylor at the top of the arc; he knocked home the downtown basket to push himself over the 1,000-point plateau and put his team ahead 56-49.
After Becker cut it to a four-point separation, SVC opened it up with 14-straight points started by another Goldsmith bucket from the outside; Borders downed a pair of scores during that surge after Goldsmith added an old-fashion three-point play for the comfortable cushion. Goldsmith later gave Southern Vermont its biggest lead of the night at 74-53 when he dropped in another trey off a Taylor pass.
Becker wouldn't get its deficit below 14 the rest of the night as SVC continued to be efficient at the offensive end of the court. Goldsmith registered his fifth triple of the game before Taylor added his third at the 4:19 mark. Senior Davante Jordan (Great Mills, Md.) scored five-consecutive Mountaineer points late in the game with the help of an and-one play, putting it out of reach for the Hawks.
– #LetsGoSVC –