CASTLETON, Vt. – Armed with the most overall victories in a season in three years, the Castleton University men's basketball team heads to Bangor, Maine, for the NAC Tournament this weekend, looking to win its first conference title in five seasons.
Castleton finished the regular season with a 16-8 overall record, including an 11-7 mark within the conference. The Spartans finished in a tie for second place with Thomas College, but won the tiebreaker over the Terriers to earn the second seed and the bye into the semifinals, while Thomas advanced thanks to a close home victory over Colby-Sawyer.
First Team All-NAC performer Chad Copeland leads the Spartans with 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Tondi Mushandu is averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. Mushandu is 33rd in the country in field goal percentage, hitting 60.1 percent of his attempts from the floor, while Edmund Fitzgerald is 42nd in the nation with two blocked shots per game.
As a team, Castleton is 21st in Division III in field goal percentage at 48.8 percent and 35th in the country in field goal percentage defense, allowing just 40.5 percent of opponents' attempts from the floor to fall. The Spartans won nine of their first 11 games of the season, including road wins at Southern Vermont and at Lehman College.
Thomas College brings a 14-12 overall record into Friday's semifinal, including wins in five of its last six games, with the only loss coming in overtime to NAC regular season champion Husson. The Terriers defeated Colby-Sawyer at home Tuesday in the quarterfinals, 77-71, taking the lead five minutes into the second half and holding on the rest of the way.
Tyheem Simon is scoring 21.1 points per game thanks to 55.6 percent field goal shooting and 80.3 percent free throw shooting, while Carlos Gonzalez is shooting 55.9 percent from the field as he is contributing 13.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Ian King is the tablesetter for the Terriers, averaging 4.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
The teams split the season series, starting with a 70-69 victory for Thomas on its home court Dec. 3 as Simon, who finished with 29 points and eight rebounds, scored the Terriers' final seven points of the game. Mushandu led Castleton with 18 points and 11 rebounds. The Spartans won the rematch at Glenbrook Gym Feb. 3, 61-45, with Jordan Nelson leading Castleton with 16 points and nine rebounds.
This will be the third straight year in which Castleton and Thomas meet in the NAC Tournament. Two years ago, the Spartans defeated the Terriers, 70-60, in Castleton in the quarterfinals. Last season, also in the quarterfinals, Thomas took advantage of being the home team, defeating Castleton 83-65. Castleton holds a 2-1 edge over Thomas in tournament matchups, owning an 82-65 victory in the 2010 tournament semifinal. Overall, the Spartans have a 19-8 series advantage over the Terriers.
The other semifinal pits top seed and NAC regular season champion Husson against fourth seed Lyndon State. Castleton lost both meetings to Husson, a 77-71 overtime loss at Glenbrook Gym Jan. 20 and an 85-59 loss at Husson Feb. 11. The Spartans swept the season series from the Hornets, 58-50 in Castleton Dec. 10 and 69-68 in Lyndonville last week.