CHICOPEE, Mass. – Elms College freshman guard Piere Simpson (Middletown, Conn.) netted 19 points and was 9 of 10 from the free throw line and junior guard Andre French (Torrington, Conn.) recorded nine steals to help lift the third-seeded Blazers to a heart-stopping 66-64 victory over No. 6 Anna Maria College in Wednesday evening's Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championship tournament first round game at Picknelly Arena.
With the win, Elms moves to 18-10 on the season and will play the winner of No. 2 Salve Regina University and No. 7 Husson University at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 3 at top seed and host Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Anna Maria concludes its season with an overall record of 14-15.
In a game that was tightly contested from start to finish, Elms battled back from a 10-point (49-39) second half deficit using an 8-0 run that featured a pair layups by Simpson and a bucket each from senior guard Bryant Corcoran (Waterbury, Conn.) and freshman forward Kenneth Lockett (Atlanta, Ga.) to pull the Blazers to within one at 49-48 with 9:04 to play in the game.
Anna Maria answered with a 10-2 run of its own, capped by a trey from Hugh Daye (Worcester, Mass.) to put the AMCATS back on top by nine (59-50) with 6:34 to play. Elms again chipped away at the lead as French delivered a layup with 3:08 on the clock to narrow the gap to 63-60 before Simpson connected on a pair of free throws with 1:31 remaining and shrink the deficit to two and set the score at 64-62.
With just 51 ticks on the clock, senior guard Daniel Gonzalez (East Windsor, Conn.) converted his only bucket of the game – a layup that knotted the score at 64-64. Simpson the hit on a pair of free throws to give Elms its first lead of the contest with 25 seconds left and the Blazers' defense fended off Anna Maria's final shot attempt as Elms came away with a thrilling 66-64 victory.
French finished with a team-high 20 points and three assists, while Simpson converted on 5 of 7 shots from the field to go along with 9 of 10 from the foul line en route to his 19 points.
Corcoran added 11 points and five rebounds, while Lockett finished with a team-best six boards in the winning effort.
Sophomore Isaiah Odunlami (Providence, R.I.) added eight points on 4 of 4 shooting, while junior forward David McDaniel (Plainfield, N.J.) grabbed five rebounds. Junior forward Jamal Hulum (Reston, Va.) added two blocked shots and the Blazers finished with eight rejections in the game.
Anthony Click (Springfield, Mass.) turned in a terrific all-around performance, pouring in a game-high 23 points and added a tie for the game-high in rebounds with 10. He also added four assists, five blocked shots, three steals and was 4 of 5 shooting from the free throw line.
Quantez Franklin (South Yarmouth, Mass.) was the AMCATS' other starter in double figures with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Corey Pryor (Northbridge, Mass.) came off the bench to score 11 points.
Both teams shot at a high percentage as Elms registered a 42.9-percent clip, while Anna Maria shot 41.4-percent for the game.