#3 Stonehill Hosts #4 UMass Lowell in NE-10 Championship Saturday

Senior Andre Tongo is averaging 23 points and six rebounds in the postseason so far after his career-best 27 points in Wednesday's semifinal win at Adelphi. (PHOTO BY Bert Lane)

Skyhawks seek fourth NE-10 tournament championship to snap 23-year drought

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EASTON, Mass. (March 2, 2012) – Third-seeded Stonehill College, ranked third in this week's NCAA Division II East Regional rankings, looks to put an end to a 23-year tournament championship drought as it hosts fourth-seeded University of Massachusetts Lowell, ranked fourth in the region, for the 2012 Northeast-10 Conference men's basketball championship at Merkert Gymnasium on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Admission will be $7.00 for adults, $4.00 for children and senior citizens and $1.00 for students from participating colleges with a valid college ID. The first 400 Stonehill students will be admitted free of charge, courtesy of Student Affairs, Student Activities, Rec Sports and the Athletic Department. The game will also be webcast live free of charge online at www.northeast10.tv, with links also available via www.stonehillskyhawks.tv and www.stonehillskyhawks.com, with Stephen Zerdelian and Jacob VanRyn calling the action. Radio coverage will also be provided in the Easton area by WSHL 91.3 FM.

Stonehill (20-8, 15-7 NE-10), winners of 20 games for the fourth-straight season and sixth time in head coach David McLaughlin's (173-83/.676) nine years at the helm, is making its sixth appearance in the NE-10 Championship – first since 2006. The Skyhawks have won three tournament titles, with the last coming in an up and down 116-111 triumph over rival and then regular season champion Bentley University in 1989. Stonehill, who also won the first two NE-10 championships in 1981 and '82 (both by wins over Springfield College), fell to Saint Anselm College in the 2006 title game at Merkert Gym, 77-61.

UMass Lowell (19-9, 13-9 NE-10) looks to capture its second NE-10 tournament title in three years, having won the championship three times since joining the Conference prior to the 2000-01 season. The River Hawks are 3-1 in NE-10 title games, having captured championships in 2003, 2004 and 2010, since falling to Saint Michael's College (75-65) in 2001 following their inaugural NE-10 season. UML topped Adelphi University (73-58) at Costello Gymnasium in Lowell, Mass., in the 2010 championship.

Senior Patrick Lee, the NE-10 Defensive Player of the Year, ranks second in the NE-10 for rebounding at 8.4 per game to go with 10.9 points per outing. (PHOTO BY Richard Orr)

Both squads pulled road upsets in Wednesday's semifinal round after comfortable home wins in the NE-10 quarterfinals. Stonehill topped second-seeded Adelphi University (20-8, 16-6 NE-10) in Garden City, N.Y., in the semifinals behind a career-high 27 points from senior guard Andre Tongo (Acton, Mass./Acton-Boxborough). He is averaging 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and 1.5 steals through two NE-10 tournament games, having also led the Skyhawks to an 85-66 quarterfinal round win over sixth-seeded Merrimack College on Sunday with 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Tongo is shooting 59.3-percent (16-for-27) from the field, including 6-for-12 (50%) from three-point range, while converting all eight free-throw attempts for the week.

UMass Lowell stunned top-seeded and No. 24-ranked Franklin Pierce University (21-7, 16-6 NE-10) in Wednesday's semifinals, 69-65, to earn its spot in Saturday's title match. Senior Dipanjpot Singh (Evansville, Ill./Evanston Township) and sophomore Akeem Williams (Brockton, Mass./The Winchendon School) combined for 37 points, with Williams netting a team-high 19 points and Singh adding 18 to lead the way. The River Hawks opened the tournament with an 86-68 victory over fifth-seeded Southern Connecticut State University in Sunday's quarterfinal round behind 19 points from Williams, including the 1,000th of his career.

Saturday's championship will feature a contrast in styles as Stonehill features the top defense in the NE-10, allowing a league-low 58.2 points per game (4th nationally) and .396 opponents field goal percentage, and UMass Lowell ranks second in the NE-10 for scoring at 73 points per game, fourth in field goal percentage (.446) and seventh in three-point field goal percentage (.370). The Skyhawks are also second in the NE-10 for three-point field goal percentage defense (.316), third in rebounding margin (+3.0/gm), first for offensive rebounds (12.5) and blocked shots (4.6) per game, while ranking second for fewest turnovers per game (12.6).

Stonehill enters tomorrow's championship winners of a season-high five straight games and six of its last seven after Wednesday's semifinal win. The Skyhawks are ninth in the NE-10 for scoring (66.8 ppg), second in three-point shooting percentage (.379), third with 37.5 rebounds per game.

Junior Brian Hamor (Schenectady, N.Y./Bishop Gibbons), a second-team All-Northeast-10 honoree, leads the Skyhawks in scoring with 13.6 points (15th NE-10) on 40.5-percent shooting from the field, including 34.9% (44-126) from beyond the arc, and converting 72.2% (96-133) of his free-throws, to go with 3.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists (10th) in a team-high 32.3 minutes per game. Tongo is adding 13 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, shooting 40.7-percent from the field, including 39-percent (62-159) from three-point range and 72.7% (48-66) from the line.

Junior Adam Fazzini is contributing 11.5 points per game off the bench in the postseason and averaged 11.5 points as well in two regular season meetings with UMass Lowell. (PHOTO BY Marcus Snowden)

Senior Patrick Lee (Fayetteville, N.Y./Fayetteville-Manlius), the NE-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a third team All-Conference selection, is the backbone of the Stonehill defensive effort, having started all 27 of the games he has played this season and is averaging 10.9 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds (2nd NE-10), with 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocked shots (9th) and 1.2 steals in 30.3 minutes per game. He is shooting 49.6-percent from the field, including 5-for-10 (50%) from three-point range.

Junior Adam Fazzini (Drums, Pa./Crestwood) provides a team-high 9.0 points off the bench on a team-best 45.7-percent (59-129) shooting from three-point range (2rd) in 24.5 minutes per game. He is providing 11.5 points on 42.9-percent (6-for-14) shooting from deep in the NE-10 Tournament, while sophomore Mitch Amelio (Carlsbad, Calif./La Jolla Country Day) is chipping in 11 points on 50-percent (6-for-12) shooting from long range in 14 minutes per game in the postseason.

UMass Lowell has won three straight after Wednesday's NE-10 semifinal win, started by an 85-76 victory over Bentley University in the regular season finale halted a four game slide. The River Hawks rank 14th in the NE-10 for scoring defense (68.6), sixth in field goal percentage defense (.417), fifth for three point field goal percentage defense (.332), third in steals per game (8.9) and fourth in blocks per game (3.6).

Williams, a second team All-Northeast-10 selection, leads the NE-10 in scoring with 17.2 points per game on 43-percent shooting from the field, including 35% (48-136) from three-point range, while converting 76% (90-117) of his free-throws to go with 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 31.6 minutes per game. Singh adds 13.9 points (14th NE-10) on 48-percent shooting, including 44% (59-134) from beyond the arc (4th), converting 83% (73-87) of his free-throws (4th) to go with 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

Junior Matt Welch (Lowell, Mass./Lowell) contributes 11.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and nearly a blocked shot per outing, while sophomore Antonio Bivins (Miami, Fla./American) chips in 9.8 points on 56% shooting (5th), 4.6 rebounds and a block per game in 22.1 minutes per game off the bench.  

Tomorrow marks the third postseason encounter between the two programs. It's the second-straight year they will meet in the NE-10 Tournament after UMass Lowell upset Stonehill 79-69 at Merkert Gym in the quarterfinal round last winter. The Skyhawks won the only other postseason meeting with an 89-80 decision in the 2006 NCAA East Regional Championship, also played at Merkert Gym.

Coach's Corner with David McLaughlin

UMass Lowell holds a 22-19 advantage in the all-time series, but Stonehill has won five of the last six encounters, including a regular season series sweep this winter. The Skyhawks posted a 72-59 victory at Merkert Gym in November behind 17 points from Tongo, before cruising to a 69-35 triumph in Lowell on February 8 thanks to a career-best 30 points by Hamor. Hamor averaged 18 points on 45.8-percent (11-24) shooting from the field, including 8-17 (47.1%) from three-point range, over the two games with UML this winter, while Williams has averaged 12 points over the two meetings for the River Hawks.

The winner of tomorrow's NE-10 Championship will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament, which is scheduled to get under way next weekend. With both teams firmly entrenched in the top four in the latest East Regional rankings, neither team is playing for its NCAA Tournament lives, although seeding could be at stake when bids are announced by the NCAA selection committee on Sunday night.

2012 Northeast-10 Conference
Men's Basketball Championships

Friday, February 24th
First Round
#10 New Haven 51, #7 Pace 49
#9 Assumption 78, at #8 Bentley 56

Sunday, February 26th
#1 Franklin Pierce 55, #9 Assumption 50
#2 Adelphi 54, #10 New Haven 51
#3 Stonehill 85 #6 Merrimack 66
#4 UMass Lowell 86, #5 Southern Connecticut State 68

Wednesday, February 29th
Semifinals (at higher seeds)
#4 UMass Lowell 69, #1 Franklin Pierce 65
#3 Stonehill 73, #2 Adelphi 60

Saturday, March 3rd
Championship (Merkert Gymnasium/Easton, Mass.)
#4 UMass Lowell (19-9, 13-9 NE-10) at #3 Stonehill (20-8, 15-7 NE-10), 1 p.m.