LEICESTER, Mass. – Elms College senior forward Edgar Martinez (Springfield, Mass.) netted a team-high 21 points to help lift the second-seed Blazers to an 88-73 win over No. 3 Southern Vermont College and advance to its seventh straight conference championship game in Friday evening's New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship tournament semifinal game on the campus of Becker College.
With the win Elms improves to 19-7 overall and will face top-seeded Becker College (23-3) in the NECC Championship tournament title game on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 2:00 p.m. Southern Vermont, meanwhile, concludes its season 16-11 overall.
In the opening 20 minutes, both teams shot above 40-percent as Elms maintained a lead throughout the majority of the frame and produced its largest lead of the half (eight points) when sophomore guard Brittain Purcelle (Tarrytown, N.Y.) nailed a jumper at the 4:46 mark to set the score at 32-24.
A jumper by Southern Vermont's Derrick Cenicola (Hamilton, N.Y.) and a pair of free throws by Lance Spratling (Pittsfield, Mass.) cut the Blazers' lead to four with 3:59 to play in the period before Elms' junior guard Daniel Gonzalez (East Windsor, Mass.) answered with a trey four seconds later to extend the lead back to seven.
Another strike from beyond the arc, this time by Blazers' senior guard Arsenio Avant (Southwest Ranches, Fla.) set the score at 38-32 with 2:59 on the clock before the Mountaineers scored nine of the final 15 points of the stanza to pull to within three (44-41) at halftime.
Elms posted a pair of early nine-point leads in the second half with the second of the two coming by way of a Purcelle mid-range jumper at the 16:12 mark to give the Blazers a 54-45 lead. Taeshon Johnson (Pittsfield, Mass.) answered with a jumper 13 seconds later and Cenicola buried a three-pointer at the 14:29 mark to close the gap to 54-50. Johnson then responded to a pair of made free throws by Elms senior forward Juan Alverio (Toa Baja, Puerto Rico) with a layup underneath to keep the deficit at four (56-52) until the Blazers used a 17-4 run over the next 4:56 to take a commanding 17-point 73-56 lead.
From there, Elms was a maintained at least a 15-point lead and used two Alverio foul shots at the 4:34 mark to stake its largest lead of the contest (23 points) to establish an 80-57 cushion to help propel the Blazers to Saturday's championship contest.
Martinez connected on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor, while Purcelle finished with 16 points in the winning effort.
Alverio recorded a double-double with 12 points and a team-high 11 rebounds, while senior guard Cecil Avant (Southwest Ranches, Fla.) added eight points.
Arsenio Avant and Gonazalez each contributed seven points off the bench as the Blazers shot 45.2-percent from the field for the game.
Cenicola scored a game-best 29 points on the strength of five three-pointers to highlight three Mountaineers in double figures.
Johnson added 17 points, while Spratling netted 14 and grabbed seven rebounds. Ben Naaktgeboren (Cambridge, N.Y.) hauled a game-high 12 boards in defeat for Southern Vermont.