No. 15 Nichols Rallies to Edge Western New England in CCC Semifinals, 87-79

Senior Mikey Pettway finished with 22 points & 9 assists in Western New England's CCC semifinal loss to Nichols on Thursday. (Photo by Chris Marion)
Senior Mikey Pettway finished with 22 points & 9 assists in Western New England's CCC semifinal loss to Nichols on Thursday. (Photo by Chris Marion)

Pettway breaks program career assist record in final collegiate contest

DUDLEY, Mass. (February 21, 2019) – The top-seeded and No. 15 nationally ranked Nichols College men's basketball team overcame a ten-point halftime deficit to claim an 87-79 win over fifth-seeded Western New England University on Thursday night in the semifinal round of the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Tournament at the Nichols Athletic Center.

Nichols (24-2) advances to Saturday's CCC championship game to take on No. 2 seed Gordon, who defeated Roger Williams in Thursday's other semifinal matchup. Western New England's season comes to a close at 12-15.

Top Performers
Western New England was led by senior guard Mikey Pettway (Bridgeport, Conn.), who finished with 22 points on 10-of-19 shooting, nine assists and two rebounds in his final collegiate contest. Late in the first half, Pettway broke the program's career assist record of 480, which had been held by Mike O'Connor '03.

Junior Tim Reilly (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) made 8-of-13 field goals, including 4-of-5 from long range, on his way to a 20-point, six-rebound performance, while Alex Sikorski (Rocky Hill, Conn.) produced 14 points and nine boards and Zachary Tavitian (Milford, Conn.) added 13 points and five boards.

Nichols senior guard Marcos Echevarria (Lynn, Mass.) scored 16 of his team-high 21 points in the second half for the Bison.

Junior forward Jerome Cunningham (Westbury, N.Y.) posted a double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists, while freshman forward Jaekwon Spencer (Bristol, Conn.) also turned in a double-double effort with 15 points and ten boards off the bench.

Game Review
The Golden Bears were rolling offensively early of the contest, as Western New England raced out to a 23-6 lead five minutes into the game with the help of a perfect 6-for-6 performance from three-point range. Tavitian and Reilly had two triples each during the early surge, while Sikorski and junior Mike McGuire (Garden City, N.Y.) also connected from beyond the arc.

Western New England held its largest lead of the night (27-8) after Pettway drained a jumper with 13:13 remaining in the half.

Nichols began to fight its way back into the game, as the Bison closed the gap to 15 (31-16) on a Spencer three-pointer at the 9:43 mark, before pulling to within ten (31-21) when junior Deante Bruton (New London, Conn.) knocked down a trey a minute later.

The home team eventually got as close as six (37-31) with just under five minutes remaining in the half, but Western New England was able to stop Nichols' momentum and push its lead back to ten (46-36) at the break.

The Golden Bears scored the first four points of the second half to extend their advantage to 14 (50-36).

Leading by the same margin (53-39) a minute later, Western New England fell victim to a 7-0 run as the Bison closed the gap to seven (53-46).

Echevarria hit back-to-back three-pointers to give Nichols its first lead (65-64) midway through the half, and the senior guard added two free throws to put the Bison up three with 9:38 to play.

Western New England regained the lead (70-69) on a Tavitian layup at the 6:40 mark, and the Golden Bears remained in front until Nichols tied the score (72-72) on a Cunningham free throw three minutes later.

Sikorski connected from long range with 3:29 remaining to give Western New England a three-point lead, but Nichols answered with a three-point play from Spencer to tie it up, before the Bison pulled ahead for good (77-75) on a layup by Cunningham.

The baskets by Spencer and Cunningham came as part of a decisive 11-0 Nichols run, which culminated in a pair of Nate Tenaglia free throws that gave the Bison an eight-point lead (83-75) with 36 seconds remaining.

Despite late buckets from Sikorski and Pettway, Nichols held on down the stretch to seal their berth in the CCC championship game.

Notes
• Western New England shot 50.7% from the field while limiting Nichols to 39.4% shooting.
• The two teams combined to commit just 14 turnovers, but Western New England's nine giveaways resulted in 17 points for the Bison.
• Nichols outrebounded Western New England 45-35, led by Cunningham and Spencer.