By Greg Dudek
It does not matter how you start, it is about how you finish and the Bridgewater State University men’s basketball team is proving that to be true.
After starting the season 1-5, the Bears – once considered an afterthought to contend for the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) – have responded with a second place finish in the MASCAC.
The Bears could have clinched the MASCAC regular season title Wednesday night against Salem State University, but suffered an 80-68 loss, to close out the regular season at 14-11 and 8-4 in the MASCAC.
Despite the loss, it has taken a team effort to get the Bears back to being one of the top teams in the conference.
“The number one thing with this team is they got into whatever is best for the team,” said Bridgewater State head coach Joe Farroba. “They bought in and that’s the difference right now. It’s not about the me, it’s become about the we and I think we are seeing the results of that.”
The Bears will now wait to play in the upcoming MASCAC Tournament, as they will play either on Feb. 25 or 27 depending on seeding.
Coming into this season, not many were predicting the Bears as contenders in the MASCAC. In the MASCAC preseason poll, Bridgewater State was selected to finish fourth.
It was not what the Bears wanted to hear at the time, but they took note of it, and have used it as motivation ever since.
“We definitely wanted to respond to the negative response for us being fourth in the MASCAC,” said Lofton. “We took that as disrespect. We didn’t place so high last year, but we were a better team than what our record said. We do play with a chip on our shoulder almost every game because people are out to defeat us because we are number one in the MASCAC.”
Bridgewater State comes into the postseason playing some of their best basketball of the season. After back-to-back MASCAC losses in early Feb., the Bears won three out of their final four regular season games.
“One of the big things this group does is they don’t get too high and they don’t get too low,” Farroba said. “That’s been a good recipe for us right now. That’s probably been the recipe that’s been very effective. The losses came, but they still understood that we had time to go.”
On Saturday against Fitchburg State, the Bears routed the Falcons 85-61, behind a solid performance from Lofton who scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Junior forward Kyle Gibson chipped in with 16 points and seven rebounds, and junior guard Justin Clark scored 12 points and added three rebounds and four assists.
While the Bears have received strong play from their bench, Lofton has become the go-to player.
Lofton leads the team in both points and rebounds per game, averaging 16.3 and 8.9, respectively.
This week, Lofton was named MASCAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week and ECAC Div. III New England Co-Player of the Week for his performances against Worcester State and Fitchburg State.
Against the Lancers, Lofton had one of his better games in his Bridgewater State career, as he poured in a career-high 29 points in a 75-70 win.
“I just try to stay aggressive,” Lofton said. “Coach [Farroba] calls me a little bit unselfish to a fault. I definitely have to be more assertive.”
Even with Lofton leading the way, the Bears have received contributions from all over the place. Senior guard Brendan Monteiro has formed a one-two offensive punch with Lofton. Gibson has performed well down low and Clark has given them consistency at the guard position.
Off the bench, the Bears can go in a number of directions whether it is junior guard Barrett Murphy, sophomore guard Tyler DeMelo, or senior forward and captain Michael Grandfield.
“We are just deep,” Clark said. “We are so confident in each other that whenever a shot goes up, we always think it is a good shot no matter who is shooting it because everyone on this team can score the ball.”
While Bridgewater State has enjoyed postseason success, it’s been a few years since they last celebrated a MASCAC Tournament championship.
Last year, the Bears fell in the MASCAC quarterfinals in a 63-60 loss to the Falcons and two years ago they suffered a 83-71 loss to Salem State in the MASCAC title game.
With that in the past though, Farroba hopes his team can get back to where he thinks they belong.
“I think it’s going to take the key players to play good games,” Farroba said. “The supporting cast, when guys are called upon to go in, whether it’s two minutes, three minutes, whatever time you get it’s got be positive. Whatever opportunity you get, it has to be a positive moment so we can keep this thing going.”
Greg Dudek is The Comment’s Editor-In-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at gdudek10 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.