BOSTON, Mass. – For the first time since the 2010-11 season and seventh time in program history, the Wentworth Institute of Technology men’s basketball team is headed to the championship game of the Commonwealth Coast Conference Tournament. The fourth-seeded Leopards advanced with a 70-61 victory over the eighth-seeded University of New England behind Cesar Fulcar’s (Watertown, Mass.) career night. The freshman guard scored a game and career-high 21 points, going 7-for-9 from the floor, which included going 4-for-5 from behind the arc and added five rebounds and four assists.
The Leopards improve to 14-13 on the season and will travel to second-seeded Endicott on Saturday, seeking their first conference championship since 2007, while the Nor’Easters – who were making an appearance in the tournament for the first time since 2010 – end their season with an 8-19 record.
Three straight 3-pointers opened up the game, with sophomore Jean-Luc Parker (Georgetown, Texas) nailing the first for New England. Fulcar responded for the Leopards, and then junior Devin Thompson (Winthrop, Mass.) put the Nor’Easters up 6-3 early in the opening half.
Both sides were neck and neck up until UNE went up 22-21 after a 3-pointer by freshman Gavin Dibble (East Marion, N.Y.). Wentworth responded by using an 8-0 run to take a 29-22 lead with just over two minutes remaining and led by five (30-25) at the break. The Leopards shot 50 percent from the floor while holding the Nor’Easters to 35.7 percent.
Wentworth opened the second frame on a 17-5 run, leading by 17 points five minutes into the half. Fulcar’s explosive second half offense kept the Leopards up by double digits. However the Nor’Easters battled back to make things interesting. Dibble’s layup at 5:27 cut the deficit to 10, and a three-point play by freshman Evrim Ozkan (Istanbul, Turkey) made it an eight-point game.
With under two minutes remaining, sophomore Sam Thomas (Bedford, N.H.) made it a 63-57 game with his layup with 1:43. On the next possession Fulcar hit a pull-up jumper to make it a 65-57. One of two free throws from sophomore CJ Autry (Standish, Maine) would make it a seven-point game, however a pair of Fulcar free throws on the next possession sealed the victory for the Black & Gold.
Fulcar led a trio of double-figure scorers as senior John-Michael Fragnoli (Schenectady, N.Y.) was 9-for-11 from the floor and scored 20 points while classmate Nico Donato (Glastonbury, Conn.) added 10 points and eight assists. Wentworth shot 55.1 percent from the floor in the win
Three UNE players scored in double figures as well. Autry finished with a team-high 15 points to go along with nine rebounds and two assists, while Ozkan and Thompson had 11 points apiece. Thompson had four steals as well.
The Leopards lost both meetings against Endicott this season. On January 20, the Black and Gold were defeated 63-54 on the road, and February 17 was a 79-70 home loss.
In its last appearance in the CCC Final, Wentworth fell to Salve Regina 68-58 in overtime at Tansey Gymnasium on February 26, 2011.