February 24, 2012


Choice Nails Two Free Throws With 8.6 Seconds Left in
Come-From-Behind Victory Over Western Connecticut

Willimantic, Conn.-Senior forward Mason Choice (Newport, RI) hit a pair of free throws to take the lead with 8.6 seconds left as Rhode Island College overcame an 11-point deficit over the final three minutes to top Western Connecticut, 75-74, in the semifinal round of the 2012 Little East Men’s Basketball Tournament, hosted by Eastern Connecticut at Geissler Gymnasium on Friday night.


Rhode Island College (22-5) advances to its sixth consecutive Little East Conference Tournament Championship game, which will be played on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Geissler Gymnasium in Willimantic, CT at 5 p.m. UMass Dartmouth (1990-95) is the only other Little East program to appear in six consecutive tourney championship contests.


The Anchormen will face No. 1 seed and host Eastern Connecticut, who defeated Keene State earlier in the day, 81-76, in double overtime, in a rematch of the 2011 title game. Eastern fell to Rhode Island College in its most recent meeting, 66-48, on Jan. 28, while the Warriors topped RIC, 70-59, back on Dec. 10.  



 Senior forward Mason Choice


Senior guard Da’Quan Brooks (Atlanta, GA) finished with a game-high 41 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists, but it wasn’t enough for Western Connecticut (20-6), who falls short of the conference championship game for the second straight season.


 "Our kids showed an unbelievable amount of resiliency, heart and toughness," RIC Head Coach Bob Walsh said. "We were down nine with 1:29 to go and we just continued to trust each other. It was an incredible win that says a lot about what's inside our kids. And tomorrow we will play for the LEC title for the sixth straight year. Amazing."


RIC led from wire-to-wire in the first half, going up by as many as 10 with 12:24 left in the frame after a bucket from senior center Mike Akinrola (Woonsocket, RI). The Anchormen sustained their lead throughout much of the second half, and although the deficit was repeatedly cut to a little as two points, a basket from sophomore guard Avery King (Pawtucket, RI) with 9:02 on the clock put RIC back up by six, 54-48.


However, that’s when the Anchormen went ice cold, while the Colonials really began to heat up. Western held RIC to just one field goal over the next six minutes and outscored the Anchormen, 24-7, during that stretch. A pair of free throws from junior guard Ryan Pelletier (Wolcott, CT), made it, 70-59, with 3:14 remaining, giving Western an 11-point edge, its largest lead of the game.



 Senior center Mike Akinrola


On the other end, a pair of free throws from Akinrola and layup from junior guard Tahrike Carter (Brooklyn, NY) cut the RIC deficit to seven; but Brooks answered back with a two free throws of his own, making it, 72-63, with 1:29 on the clock. After Choice responded with a bucket to once again make it a seven point game, King came up with a huge steal that led to a three-point play for sophomore guard Michael Palumbo (Providence, RI) with 1:08 remaining to make it, 72-68.


Moments later, a costly Western turnover led to a clutch three-pointer from King to make it just a one point game, 72-71, with 1:08 on the clock. Senior forward Michael Kennedy (Newtown, CT) drained two free throws for the Colonials with 30 seconds left, but Akinrola once again cut the deficit to just one point with a basket in the paint to make it, 74-73, with 21 seconds to play.


Leading by one, the Colonials proceeded to commit another costly turnover on the offensive end, giving RIC the ball with 15 seconds remaining. That’s when Choice drove to the rack and drew the foul, giving him a pair of free throws. Choice buried them both and gave the Anchormen a 75-74 lead.



 Sophomore guard Avery King


With eight seconds left, Western had a chance for one last shot, but Brooks’ heave from three-point range fell short as time expired. The Colonials were held without a field goal for the final four minutes of action.


Western held a decisive advantage on the glass, outrebounding RIC, 40-30, in the loss. The Colonials also went 12-for-28 (43 percent) from beyond the three-point arc, while the Anchormen went just 3-for-14 (21 percent) from three.


However, Rhode Island College went 24-for-28 (86 percent) from the charity stripe, while Western went 16-for-19 (84 percent) from the line. RIC also held the edge in the turnover battle; the Colonials coughed it up 18 times, while the Anchormen lost just 13 turnovers. 


Akinrola led RIC with a team-high 22 points, while Choice recorded 17 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Choice also went 11-for-12 from the free throw line. King posted 10 points and four boards, while Carter registered eight points, five steals, and five rebounds.