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FPU men’s basketball falls in Elite 8

It was a ride no one wanted to see come to an end.

Too much work had gone into this season. But the Franklin Pierce University men’s basketball team could not get past Metro State University on Thursday, falling 78-65 in the NCAA Division II Elite 8 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.

Metro State of Denver, Colo., went on to defeat West Liberty in the final Four on Saturday and will play Drury in the Division II national championship game on April 7 in Atlanta.

It was the first appearance in the national quarterfinals in program history for FPU, as the Ravens attempted to continue their impressive season by adding another first to the list — a trip to the Final Four.

In the end, the No. 3 Roadrunners were just too much. After the Ravens took a 63-62 lead with 5:08 remaining, Metro State countered with a 6-0 run. Senior Eric Jean-Guillaume hit a jumper near the two-minute mark that made it a one-possession game, but the Roadrunners went on to score the final 10 points of the game.

The Ravens trailed 35-30 at the half and by as many as eight in the second. Junior Ellis Cooper left the game late in the first half with a knee injury, but returned early in the second half and helped spark a 7-2 run that pulled the team back within three. Jean-Guillaume also left the game for a brief time after rolling his ankle in the second half.

Junior Curtis Christian scored a season-high 16 points, just one off his career high. He was 6-for-8 from the floor with four three-pointers. Cooper finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Ryen Vilmont finished one rebound shy of a double-double, tallying 11 points and nine rebounds.

Jean-Guillaume, who earlier in the week earned All-America honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches for the second straight season, finished his collegiate career with nine points and five assists.

Jean-Guillaume was also placed on the All-East Region First Team by the organization, adding to his Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Year award and NE-10 First-Team recognition. The senior guard ranks seventh all-time in FPU history with 1,595 points and third in steals with 241. His NE-10 Player of the Year award was his second straight, becoming just the sixth player in conference history to earn the award in multiple years. Jean-Guillaume led FPU with 16 points, 3.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His 2.4 steals per game during NE-10 play was the best in the conference.

Cooper was named to the All-East Region Second-Team, just a week after being named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional. The junior forward also landed on the NE-10 Second Team.

The Ravens’ first-ever appearance in the Elite 8 was just the latest in a postseason filled with firsts. FPU advanced to the first NE-10 championship game in school history. Making it to the East Region finals was also a first, as was winning the title over the University of Bridgeport, 57-52, on March 19.

FPU finished 16-6 overall in conference play and in a tie for third place. As the fourth seed in the NE-10 tournament, the Ravens defeated Southern Connecticut State at home and then knocked off top-seeded Saint Anselm on the road. They hosted the NE-10 title game, but fell to Southern New Hampshire by 11, a team FPU defeated twice in the regular season.

Despite the conference title game loss, the Ravens still earned the No. 1 seed in the East Region for the second straight season, marking the only two times in program history. In the regionals, FPU defeated Bloomfield in the opener, getting some revenge for last year’s loss in the NCAA D-II second round, and then New Haven to set up the title game against Bridgeport.

FPU finished the season 24-9 overall, the second most wins since joining the NCAA in 1988. It is the most wins for coach David Chadbourne since he took over the program in 1999-00.

Prior to the season’s start, the Ravens were ranked No. 2 in the Division II Bulletin preseason poll and 10th in the NABC preseason poll. They began the year with eight wins in the first nine games and went 5-2 in postseason play.

FPU loses two seniors in Jean-Guillaume and Josh Jones, who played in just eight games.

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