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March 18. 2013 9:34PM

Franklin Pierce men riding high into NCAA Div. II East Regional title game

MANCHESTER - The ascension of the Franklin Pierce University men's basketball program - perhaps resurrection is a better word - could be complete tonight when the Ravens play the University of Bridgeport in the championship game of the NCAA Division II East Regional (7 p.m., Southern New Hampshire University Fieldhouse).

FPU has a rich history of success in the NAIA and then the NCAA tournaments, reaching the regional four times in six years in the 1990s. But it was 16 years between trips as the school has struggled for much of the 2000s. The drought ended last year when the Ravens reached the second round and now they have a chance to go to the Elite Eight for the first time.

Don't expect the heavy snow in the forecast to slow down the top-seeded Ravens (23-8). Both teams and the referees are staying in the city, so tournament officials said the game is not likely to be postponed.

What could stop the Ravens, however, is a Bridgeport team that FPU coach David Chadbourne said reminds him of his own team.

"They're athletic, they're long. They have players who can get their own shots and they play well together," Chadbourne said of the seventh-seeded Purple Knights (23-9). "And, they might be the best defensive team we play this year."

After holding a pair of opponents to 49 and 53 points to win the East Coast Conference tournament, the Purple Knights beat second-seeded St. Anselm, 77-66, in the first round of the regional and edged Assumption, 58-56, in Sunday's second round. They held both teams to at least 10 points under their season scoring average, mixing in primarily man-to-man defense with a few different zone looks.

Now Bridgeport faces the task of knocking off its third straight team from the Northeast-10. The two teams didn't play each other during the regular season.

The Ravens have won four of their last five games, with the loss coming to SNHU in the NE-10 title game. They won their first two games in the regional by double-digits - 90-78 over Bloomfield and 80-63 against New Haven - and Chadbourne thinks his team is playing as well as it has all year.

"The first 20 minutes (against New Haven) were probably the best we played all year," Chadbourne said. "And we played pretty well against Bloomfield."

Each team has its star and both are shining in the regional.

Bridgeport's all-conference guard Darian David is averaging 17 points in the tournament, while FPU's Eric Jean-Guillaume, the two-time NE-10 player of the year, is averaging 18.5. FPU junior forward Ellis Cooper has battled a knee injury for much of this season, but Chadbourne said he is as healthy as he has been all year and he's playing that way, averaging 17.5 points in the regional.

If you want an wild card, it's FPU center Adrianos Vourliotakis Perdikaris, who had 16 points and eight rebounds in the regional opener and 19 and 12 in the second round.

jfennell@unionleader.com

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