Auburn, ME - On President's Day afternoon, the gym of Central Maine Community College played host to the Men's Championship Game of the Yankee Small College Conference, a culmination of the 2013 Elite-Eight festivities that had taken place over the previous five days. The United States Collegiate Athletic Association #8 ranked Knights of Vermont Tech completed a Back-to-Back YSCC Championship feat in defeating the USCAA #1 ranked Lynx of NHTI 80-66.
Vermont Tech and NHTI have quite the history over the past three seasons, especially in the YSCC Tournament. They have faced each other in the YSCC Championship Game three straight years, with NHTI winning the first such meeting during the 2010/11 tournament, and now VTC winning the subsequent two finals.
During the 2010/11 tournament, the NHTI Lynx were the underdogs, but managed to knock off the #1 seeded and YSCC regular season champion Knights. In 2011/12 neither team was expected to make the championship game. Behind a stout defense and the school's all-time leading scorer Kevin Carr, the Knights made a run to the championship and defeated NHTI in the final game to gain an ounce of revenge from the previous year. The win was made even sweeter given the fact it was completed on the home court of the Lynx. The 2013 championship game was the rubber match, and the Knights were able to flip the script on the 2010/11 tournament championship contest in getting the win versus the YSCC regular season champion Lynx.
Early in the game, the Lynx showed how they earned the #1 ranking in the nation, the #1 seed in the YSCC tournament and a 33-2 overall record. Within 2 1/2 minutes, NHTI was up 9-0 and running all over Vermont Tech. Lynx Senior Besfort Syla caused quick turnovers and created easy points for NHTI. Syla finished the game with 14 points.
Freshman Kyle Kissenberth (Winter Park, FL) broke the scoreless stretch for Vermont Tech, hitting on a deep three just as he had done for much of the tournament. Kissenberth finished the game as the second leading scorer with 19 points, much of his scoring coming from beyond the three-point arc. In total, the Knights shot 37% from three, hitting on 11 of 30. NHTI could only muster 30% from three, as they connected on 6 of 20.
Halfway through the first, with the score 19-12 in favor of NHTI, Vermont Tech began to settle down behind the presence of Freshman Point Guard Sam Marler (Sydney, Australia) and Junior Guard Brandon Matano (Honolulu, HI). Matano, who was named Tournament MVP, excelled both on the offensive and defensive side of the floor. He scored a game-high 22 points, 13 in the first half, connecting on several deep threes, as well as contributing 3 assists. In addition, Matano was relentless on the defensive end of the floor, disrupting the Lynx offense.
While Matano was scoring, Marler was calmly controlling the offense of the Knights, making smart decisions and dishing out a game-high 8 assists to go along with 7 rebounds. The score at the half was 33-31 in favor of the Lynx. At the half, Ahntwan Harris, later named the Tournament Offensive MVP, led NHTI with 7 of his eventual 11 points.
The second half saw the intensity one would imagine when thinking of a championship contest. The play was physical but clean, with neither team backing down. 6'6" Senior Josh Lindsey (Palm Bay, FL) made established his presence in the post, contributing all of his 12 points in the second period. He also finished with 10 rebounds.
With eight minutes remaining, Matano hit a three to give Vermont Tech the lead. At the six minute mark the lead was at eight for the Knights. Two minutes later, after a brief NHTI burst, Kissenberth connected on back-to-back three pointers to push the lead back out to 11 with just under four minutes remaining.
NHTI would not go away easy as they pressed, played tough defense and in the end made the Knights earn the game at the free throw line. Jackson Riel helped the Lynx effort with 12 points and Terry Williams finished with 10.
Knight Senior Alex Tyrrell calmly sank his free throws towards the end of the game to ensure a VTC victory. Tyrrell, the Tournament Defensive MVP, finished with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Rebounding was of a critical factor in the game, especially on the offensive glass. Vermont Tech finished with a 20-5 advantage in terms of offensive rebounding, creating numerous second chance points that undoubtedly affected the outcome of the championship game.
The victory pushes the Knights' overall record to 21-9 and secures them an automatic bid to the USCAA Division II National Tournament where they will make an attempted run at an elusive National Championship. Vermont Tech has never won an USCAA National Title in any sport. Being the #1 ranked team in the USCAA for much of the season, NHTI will receive an at-large bid to the tournament. The Lynx hold one USCAA DII National Championship, won during the 2005 season.
The tournament, hosted by Penn State Fayette, will take place in Uniontown, PA, beginning February 26th and continuing through March 2nd.
Below is the link to the official 2013 USCAA Basketball Championship website: