Nick Fiorillo hugs a teammate after the University of Vermont men’s basketball team defeated UMass Lowell to win the America East Conference championship on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Vermont Athletics

Taking part in the NCAA Tournament has become routine for Scarborough’s Nick Fiorillo and his University of Vermont men’s basketball teammates.

“My fifth year at Vermont, four America East championships, our third NCAA, with one canceled (in 2020) because of COVID,” Fiorillo summarized neatly.

This time feels different for Fiorillo, a two-time Varsity Maine All-State selection and Scarborough High’s all-time scorer. Unlike his trip two years ago as a redshirt sophomore, he’s a starter logging big minutes. And he’s healthy. Last year, he had barely returned to action after missing 20 games because of a torn MCL.

Then there is Vermont’s opponent. The 13th-seeded Catamounts (28-6) will play fourth-seeded Duke (24-8) in a South region game at 7:10 p.m. Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

“For me personally, this is the biggest role I’ve had in my tournament teams, and obviously the matchup against Duke is special. And to do it in the best city in the country in New York City,” said Fiorillo, a 6-foot-8 forward. “We’ve got the prime time 7 o’clock game, against Duke, in a beautiful arena.”

Duke, a blue-blood program with five NCAA titles and 17 Final Four appearances, is routinely ranked as the most disliked men’s college basketball team in the country.


“They’re notorious for either you love them or hate them, so hopefully in New York we’ll get the neutral-site fans on our side,” Fiorillo said. “Plus, only being five hours from Burlington, this is by far the closest to our home we’ve played (in the NCAA Tournament) since I’ve been here.”

This is Vermont’s 10th NCAA trip. The Catamounts famously upset Syracuse in 2005, but since then have won one NCAA Tournament game in their last six appearances, and that was a First Four game against co-No. 16 seed Lamar in 2012.

Vermont lost to second-seeded Arkansas, 75-71, in Buffalo in 2022. That season, Fiorillo played in every game as a reserve, averaging 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds. He played seven minutes and had a steal and an assist against Arkansas.

Nick Fiorillo is a starting forward for the Vermont men’s basketball team, averaging 8.8 points and 3.2 rebounds this season. Brian Foley for Foley Photograph/Courtesy of Vermont Athletics

Last season, coming off his knee injury, Fiorillo played two minutes as Vermont lost to second-seeded Marquette, 78-61, in Columbus, Ohio.

Fiorillo, a fifth-year graduate student, joined this year’s starting lineup late in the season and is averaging 8.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. He’s set career highs in nearly all statistical categories, with big jumps in scoring, assists (2.1 per game) and free throws made and attempted (49 of 68) despite missing Vermont’s first six games because of a sprained knee.

“Last year was kind of a wash, and this year has been a whole year of pent-up focus of having to produce more,” Fiorillo said. “I’m trying to be more physical, and the playmaking and passing is a skill that has developed.”


Fiorillo had two of his best games of the season in the America East tournament.

In a 66-59 semifinal win against New Hampshire, Fiorillo scored 13 points with five rebounds, three 3-pointers and four assists while matching his career high with 33 minutes played. In the 66-61 championship game victory against UMass Lowell, Fiorillo again played 33 minutes, with 11 points and four rebounds, hitting a key 3-pointer in the second half that forced a Lowell timeout and gave the Catamounts, who trailed at halftime, a six-point lead.

Fiorillo is also a team leader, as Vermont Coach John Becker noted during a media conference prior to the America East final.

“Everyone says, if you can get a player-led team, that gives you the best chance to be great,” Becker said. “Aaron (Deloney, a grad student guard) and Nick have done a great job, and everybody has done a great job, of taking ownership of things and communicating and not worrying about hurting one another’s feelings and just making sure everyone is on the same page.”

Regardless of what happens Friday against Duke, Fiorillo’s college career won’t be over. He will take advantage of the NCAA’s extra year eligibility because of the pandemic and play a sixth season at Vermont, and finish his two-year Master of Accountancy program.

“I love this place. It’s a good system for me and I love winning, and that’s all that matters,” Fiorillo said.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: