Published February 20. 2013 4:00AM
New London - Yarnall Athletic Center was transformed into Ford's Theater on Tuesday night.
Mitchell College's talented leading man, Joshua Ford, delivered another one of his New England Collegiate Conference player of the year contender performances.
Just as memorable was the play of Ford's supporting cast in the hotly-contested tournament game. Neither team led by more than seven points.
Ford and company delivered the men's basketball program's first NECC postseason win, beating Becker College, 77-75, in the tournament quarterfinals.
"It's definitely big," Mitchell coach Todd Peretz. "From where we were two years ago when we had one win the whole year to here we are now, winning 14 games. It's huge."
Ford had 26 points, 15 rebounds and five assists to power the fourth-seeded Mariners (14-11), who split the regular season series with the Hawks, each winning tight games.
But one of the key moments came when Ford was on the bench for a three-minute stretch early in the second half.
Forced to leave the game after being poked in the right eye, Ford watched his teammates extend a two-point lead to six. When he returned at the 15:22 mark, the Mariners led 45-42.
"It was very important," junior Alex Del Rio said of maintaining the lead during that stretch. "He's the best player in the conference and he believes in us. I knew he was going to come back in the game."
Del Rio, who scored eight of his 10 points in the second half, helped hold off fifth-seeded Becker (13-13). His wide open 3-pointer pushed the Mariners in front for good, 63-60, with 6:15 remaining.
"You've to knock it down when they leave you open," Del Rio said.
The lead grew to seven (67-60) when junior Anthony Epps scored off a rebound. Epps finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
The Mariners had to survive some stomach-churning moments in the final minute.
Clinging to a 75-73 lead, Mitchell ran a play for Ford, who drew a crowd after catching the ball. Ford smartly dumped it off to an open Michael Pellegrini who scored with 32 seconds left.
"I'm not selfish," Ford said. "I just wanted to pass the ball to my teammate."
Becker had one more chance to tie the game after Del Rio missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Ford took some valuable time off the clock by tipping a pass out of bounds with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Tyler Roberson's contested corner jumper at the buzzer fell short, and the Mariners could finally celebrate their first NECC tournament victory in their first postseason trip since 2009.
Mitchell advances to the semifinals at top-seeded Elms College on Friday. The Mariners were swept in the regular season series, 93-66 and 81-66.
"They took it to us pretty good twice," Peretz said. "We're going to have to be much stronger with the ball and rebound better."