BJ Carderelli savored the thrill of helping Southern New Hampshire punch a ticket to the Elite Eight last week.
Not only did he lead the Penmen to their first regional title since 1995, but he was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional.
“It’s surreal right now,” Cardarelli said. “We knew we had a good team, but to get here, it’s a little bit of a surprise. It’s a big accomplishment.”
He’s right — especially after what happened (or didn’t happen) last year. Cardarelli missed the entire 2013-14 season with a hip injury. It’s an injury that required, not one, but two surgeries.
“It was the toughest year of my basketball career,” Cardarelli said. “I actually hurt it the summer of my sophomore year but I played through the pain. I didn’t know how bad it was until after the season.”
Cardarelli was a player on the rise before the injury, starting 20 games as a freshmen and finishing third on the team in scoring (10.1 points per game).
A year later, he played in 30 games, starting 29 times, and ranked third on the team in scoring (11.9). He became a viable threat from the outside as well, drilling 51 3-pointers, and scored 10 or more points in 19 games.
Cardarelli averages 10.4 ppg this year and has knocked down 56 treys. He scored 12 points in Southern New Hampshire’s 75-58 win over reigning regional champ Southern Connecticut in the Sweet 16 last Tuesday.
But getting back to the level he was at prior to the injury wasn’t easy. Cardarelli reached double figures only twice in the first nine games this season.
“It was a little tough coming back from it (the injury), but after playing again, I started to get back into the flow of things. I feel like I’ve improved in a lot of ways and that I’m a more mature player.”
Southern New Hampshire (24-7) has won three consecutive games to make it to the Elite Eight, mixing a balanced attack with a tenacious defensive effort to fuel its success.
Six players average at least 5 points per outing including leading scorer Elijah Bonsignore (15.5 ppg). The Penmen allow 65 points per contest and are holding opponents to 39.5 percent shooting from the field.
“It’s definitely easier to play knowing we have so many guys can step up,” Cardarelli said. “We’re a team to prepare for because of the options we have.”
Their next challenge will be Florida Southern, one of the best teams in D2 Basketball. The Penmen play the Moccasins in a national quarterfinal Wednesday at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Rather than be consumed by the moment or rattled by the pressure that comes with playing on this stage, the Penmen are focused and ready to play.
“We’ve pretty much prepared the same way we have all year,” Cardarelli said. “We know it’s a big game and we have to come out ready to play our best. We aren’t just happy to be here. We want to go all the way. I believe we can do it if we play up to our potential.”