BOSTON, Mass – The University of Massachusetts Boston men's basketball team will be making their long awaited return to the Little East Conference tournament tomorrow when they travel to the University of Southern Maine for a 7:30 p.m. quarterfinal contest.
The Beacons, who are the No. 5 seed in this year's tournament will make the trip to Gorham, Maine to face the No. 4 Huskies, with the winner of that contest advancing to the semi-finals which will be played on Friday at the highest remaining seed.
Tuesday's contest will mark only the fourth time that UMB and the Huskies have met in the conference tournament. All three previous meetings occurred in the quarterfinal round of the tournament with USM holding a 2-1 edge over the Beacons.
The last time they shared the hardwood in the postseason was in the 96-97 season, with the Beacons earning the 62-50 victory. Prior to that contest, UMB faced Southern Maine in 1992 (L 77-67) and in 1988 (L 92-84).
Not only will the Beacons be looking to even the all-time record between them and the Huskies, but they will also be in the hunt for their first conference tournament win since the 2007 season. Just one year after winning the program's first conference title in '06, the Beacons advanced to the semi-final round of the tournament in 2007 after defeating Western Connecticut State University 88-82.
The year that UMB claimed the conference crown they defeated Eastern Connecticut State (60-56), Rhode Island College (76-70), and finally Keene State College (81-67) on their home court to earn the program's second ever trip to the NCAA tournament. Their historic run ended at the hands of the Red Dragons of SUNY Cortland in the first round of the national tournament following a 68-54 loss.
The 2012-13 season, has been one of the best season since the 2005-06 campaign. Currently standing with a 12-12 record, this season marked the first-time that UMB has recorded double-figure wins and will be entering the conference tournament with a .500 record or better since '06.
Their 6-8 conference mark to close out the year is also the best finish since their championship season, when the Beacons went 10-4 on the year.
In the previous two meetings between the Huskies and the Beacons this season, the two teams each walked off their home courts with wins. At Southern Maine, UMB dropped a 64-58 decision, while in the Clark Gym, the Beacons earned an impressive 69-55 victory behind a double-double of 14 points and a career-best 24 rebounds from Rahshjeem Benson (Boston, Mass.). Sophomores Vinny DeLucia (Miami, Fla.) and Brian Clarke (Miramar, Fla.) and freshman Jahleel Moise (Brockton, Mass.) also finished in double-figures.
All-time Tuesday's tournament match-up will mark the 62nd meeting between the two programs. To date, Southern Maine has won 40 of those contests, while UMB is looking to put together its first win-streak against the Huskies since 1996-97 when they swept all three meetings in that season.
Going into this year's tournament the Beacons will look to Benson and Clarke to dominate the paint. Benson closed out the regular season as the only player in the Little East Conference to average a double-double of 12.2 points (T-13th in DIII) and 10.5 rebounds per game. He is also just two rebounds away from tying the single-season program record at UMB with his 252 grabs. Defensively Benson has also been dominant all season long. With 56 blocks (14th in DIII), he sits third all-time in single season rejections and is the conference's top shot blocker.
For Clarke he needs to play one of his best games of his young career if the Beacons are to be successful on the Huskies home court. Currently averaging 9.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, Clarke is going to have to give UMB some solid minutes and will have to convert on any open shot he may get.
Behind the arc, both teams will be looking to DeLucia. The reigning conference and region Rookie of the Year, DeLucia has come on strong in the final two weeks of the season and leads the Beacons in scoring with 12.7 points per game. The Florida native is a 41% 3-point shooter, and a 90.7% shooter at the line. Two of his biggest plays of the season came in the home win over Plymouth State on February 11 and the road win at UMass Dartmouth on February 13.
DeLucia scored a huge lay-up in the closing seconds to give Beacons the late push over the Panthers, while against the Corsairs he dropped three consecutive 3-pointers to help the Beacons overcome a 20 point deficit at half to defeat UMD 76-74.
Senior Mike Mitchell, Jr. (Dorchester, Mass.) must be at his best on Tuesday as the Beacons go-to point guard. The Dorchester native has started in 21 of the 24 games played this season and is currently averaged 26.7 minutes per game, which is third most on the team. His ability to spread the floor will be key to the Beacons success. Able to drive to the basket when he sees an open lane, Mitchell is averaging 6.7 points and 2.7 assists per game (7th in the LEC).
With a win tomorrow night UMB will advance to the semi-final round of this year's tournament. The host site of the final four, which will be determined following Tuesday's contests, will be played this Friday and Saturday. The winner of the conference tournament will receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. Last season, Eastern Connecticut State ran the table in the conference tournament and advanced all the way to the "Elite 8" of last year's national tournament.