Coming off of a 6-22 season in 2015-16, the Wheelock College men's basketball team was picked to finish eighth overall in New England collegiate Conference standings in 2016-17.
Losing only one player in 2016, forward Joe Reedy, the Wildcats returned three starters and a lineup of key reserves to build the foundation for their success in '16-'17. Returning to the floor as starters for their senior year were Devin Brown, Nicholas Fenton and Anthony Williams. Coach Mike Pollio, in his second year at the helm, would fill in the blanks with seniors Matt Eason and Derek Fournier, with experienced backups Kadeem Apply '19 and Pablo Tovar '17 ready to go.
Wheelock opened their schedule with a tough, 62-61 non-conference loss at Eastern Nazarene College on November 15.
The Wildcats found themselves in a 2-6 deficit off the opening tip, but gained a one point lead thanks to a three by Eason less than five minutes in. The teams battled back and forth from there, but the visitors used a 9-2 run to close the half with a 32-23 advantage.
Wheelock opened the second period with a Nick Fenton layup to lift the lead to ten. Eastern Nazarene clawed away, though, eventually earning a 62-61 lead on a free throw with just over a minute left on the clock. With possession and nine seconds to work with, Eason attempted to lay the ball up for a one point win, but was turned away by a Lions block, as the Wildcats fell 62-61.
Anthony Williams led the squad with 13 points, while Fenton added 11 points and 6 assists.
On Saturday, January 21, Wheelock College Men's Basketball hosted several Special Olympics of Massachusetts athletes from Brookline, Mass. to enjoy their NECC matchup vs. Newbury College. After participating in a basketball clinic led by Coach Pollio's Wildcats earlier in the season, the SOMA athletes brought die-hard support as the Gold and Gray cruised to an 86-62 victory.
The veteran-led Wildcat squad closed out a sweep of the Newbury Nighthawks with a 96-80 win on February 18 to clinch the #4 seed and a home contest in the quarterfinal round of the NECC Tournament.
With an 11-14 regular season record overall, Wheelock was set to host the fifth-seeded Mitchell College on February 21, after splitting the season series with the Mariners of New London, Conn., 1-1.
After a series of momentum shifts to open the contest, the Wildcats pulled away for a 48-38 cushion at the break. The Mariners would get no closer than seven the rest of the way as 10 points from Nick Fenton and nine by Anthony Williams helped the Wildcats finish off Mitchell down the stretch and claim the 97-86 victory.
Fenton led the Wildcats with his postseason record and game-high 30 points including 9-of-18 shooting from the field while going 10-for-11 from the charity stripe. He made it a double-double with a game-high 10 assists. Anthony Williams recorded a double-double of his own with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Devin Brown rounded out the double-digit scorers with 19 points while senior Derek Fournier had eight points and six caroms and classmate Matthew Eason knocked down a pair of trifectas and dished out seven assists. Pablo Tovar contributed seven points off the bench.
FIRST TIME IN SEVEN YEARS
After taking care of Mitchell, 97-86, Wheelock Men's Basketball found themselves in the semifinals of the NECC tournament for the first time since the 2009 - 2010 season. The team prepared to battle for the championship game at the #1 seed, Southern Vermont College, two days later on February 23.
Wheelock headed into halftime up 35-34, after six lead changes and six ties between the two teams. Fans were treated to another six lead changes to start the second, but the Mountaineers gained a lead they'd never give up with 10:14 left in the game. Going 11-13 from the line for the remainder of the game, the home team eventually handed Wheelock an 82-71 loss.
Derek Fournier led the squad with 24 points and 5 rebounds, while Anthony Williams trailed closely with 22 points, 7 rebounds. Nick Fenton dished out 12 assists and six points.
Three of Coach Pollio's starting five notched in-season and postseason accomplishments; Nick Fenton, Anthony Williams and Derek Fournier received recognition on institutional, regional and national levels after one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Nick Fenton was recognized on the national stage, as he finished the season as the country's statistical champion for assists per game. The senior guard recorded 244 assists over the season for a 9.8 average per game. Fenton was named to the All-New England Collegiate Conference First Team after leading the conference in assists and being named NECC Player of the Week on December 12. Scoring his 1000th point on January 21 at Regis, he finishes his career ranked fifth in program history with 1141 points. Additionally, Fenton broke the program records for points in a game (47 on December 10 at Elms) and assists in a game (20 on February 18 at Newbury). Nick also owns the program's career records for steals (231) and assists (745)
Derek Fournier joined the 1000-point club just a week before Fenton in an 80-62 win over Lesley on January 31. Fournier finishes his career ranked fifth in program history in points (1,155). The senior forward also owns the program's career records for three point field goals made (288), free throw percentage (.823) and three point field goal percentage (.403).
Anthony Williams finishes his career as the Wheelock College all-time points leader with 1890. The senior was named to the All-New England Collegiate Conference Second Team after ranking second in the conference in points per game with 20.6 and being named NECC Player of the Week on January 9. Williams is also the program's leader in rebounds (768) and field goals made (817).