Anchormen win Little East men's basketball tournament;
will face Rutgers-Newark in first round of NCAAs

Junior guard Antone Gray hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:06 left to lead top-seeded Rhode Island College past second-seeded Western Connecticut, 81-80, in the championship game of the 2010 Little East Conference men’s basketball tournament.

RIC advances to its fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Div. III tournament, one of only seven schools in the nation to have done so over that time. The Anchormen will take on Rutgers-Newark on Friday, March 5, at 6 p.m. at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Little East championship game photo gallery

Click here to view the complete 2010 NCAA Div. III men’s basketball tournament bracket.

Junior guard Antone Gray receives the Most Outstanding Player
award from RIC President Nancy Carriuolo.
"Winning a championship is a terrific accomplishment for this team," RIC head coach Bob Walsh said. "We have grown so much since the season started and really learned to trust each other. Winning both the regular season and tournament championships is incredible for such a young group."

Walsh's team has played in the LEC Tournament championship game in each of the past four seasons and this year’s win marks the third time RIC has come away with the title. The Anchormen raise their record to 20-7, reaching the 20-win plateau for the fourth straight season.

The victory is the seventh consecutive for the squad this year and it also marks the 11th straight win for the Anchormen vs. the Colonials (19-7). WestConn was playing in its first Little East championship game since winning the tournament in 2005.

On this year’s edition, there are no holdovers from RIC’s 2007 title winner and just two who played on the 2008 championship squad. The three triumphs in four years also marks the best performance in tourney play by an LEC school since Western Connecticut won three in a four-year time span from 2002-05.

Senior guard Jake Grimes goes up for a
dunk in the first half.
Gray, who hit the game-winning shot in the semifinal, 74-72, win over fourth-seeded UMass Dartmouth on Feb. 26, also impacted the final play of the game. After he knocked down the trifecta. Western Connecticut got the ball to sophomore forward Gary Robinson in the paint. He was immediately fouled and sent to the free throw line for two attempts with 14 seconds left.

After he made the first one, Rhode Island College called a timeout. Robinson missed the shot and the rebound pinballed out to WestConn senior guard Tyshawn Gillespie beyond the three-point line. He gave the ball up to sophomore backcourt mate DaQuan Brooks, who stepped up for a three, but at the last second, saw Robinson open on the baseline cutting to the basket.

Gray cut in front of Robinson, who was forced to alter his body, and he missed the shot. RIC senior guard Jake Grimes ended up with the ball and was tied up for a jump ball call. The possession arrow favored the Anchormen who were able to inbound the ball with 0.9 seconds left and avoid being fouled.

Gray was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. In the two wins, he averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals in the game. He finished the title win with 12 points and six helpers. Sophomore forward Mason Choice and Grimes each led the hosts with 16 points. Junior forward Carl Lee contributed 11 points and equaled Choice’s efforts on the glass with a team-high six rebounds. Junior captain Darius Debnam rounded out the RIC contingent in double figures with 12 points.

Anchormen coach Bob Walsh makes a point during RIC's
victory over Western Connecticut.
WestConn sophomore center Leroy Mayers was absolutely dominant in the post for the visitors, shooting 14-for-19 from the field in a game-high 28-point, 13-rebound effort. Brooks had 16 points and three assists.

The game went back and forth for the entire contest, with neither team able to gain much of an advantage. There were seven ties in the first half alone and RIC was able to build a game-high, eight point lead, 44-36, with 42 seconds left on a junior guard Nick Manson three-pointer. Two free throws by WestConn junior center John Phillips pulled the visitors within six, 44-38, at the break.

The first stanza was pretty much even as RIC shot 53 percent (16-for-30) and WestConn came in at 42 percent (15-for-36). The Colonials struggled from downtown, making just four of their 16 attempts, while RIC shot 80 percent (8-for-10) from the free throw line.

Junior captain Darius Debnam cuts the net.
The Colonials opened the second half on a 22-8 run to build an eight-point, 60-52, lead with 13:01 remaining. RIC countered with a 16-8 run, capped by a Debnam layup to tie the game, 68-68, at 8:10.

The lead went back and forth over the final minutes, with neither team able to get much breathing room. Mayers gave WestConn its final lead of the game, 79-78, with 1:41 left on a layup. Gray’s heroics came with just four seconds left on the shot clock. Guarded by Brooks a good four feet beyond the three-point line, Gray drained the long-range bomb for what proved to be the game-winning shot.

For the game, WestConn outrebounded the Anchormen by nine, 40-31, led primarily by Mayer’s efforts. The Colonials shot 48 percent (33-for-69) from the field, 26 percent from downtown (6-for-23) and 62 percent (8-for-13) from the free throw line.

The Anchormen shot 52 percent (31-for-60) from the field, 39 percent (7-for-18) from downtown and 75 percent (12-for-16) from the line.