By Greg Dudek
After many thought the Bridgewater State University men’s basketball team would sit in the cellar of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC), the Bears have climbed back to the top.
Second-seeded Bridgewater State upset top-seeded Salem State University on Saturday at the Twohig Gymnasium, as the Bears took home an 83-73 win to become MASCAC Tournament champions.
“I am really proud of how we played,” said Bridgewater State head coach Joe Farroba. “At the beginning of the year we probably wouldn’t have won a game like this. I could tell before the game in the locker room that there was just this focus. All 17 players helped contribute to this championship.
“It’s an emotional win, no mistake about it. We put a lot of effort into it. It’s exhilarating when you win.”
The win puts Bridgewater State back in the NCAA Div. III tournament where they will face Cabrini College in the first round on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Cabrini comes into the postseason currently ranked sixth in all of Div. III.
After losing twice to Salem State in the regular season, the Bears came into the championship unfazed by their recent losses to the Vikings.
“We all knew as a team that it was going to be a dogfight and we knew they weren’t just going to roll over and give it to us,” said junior forward Michael Lofton. “Knowing that we lost to them twice in the regular season, we were certain we would beat them that third time. Celebrating the win and being able to cut down the net in their own gym feels pretty damn good. I think it’s an even better feeling when doing it on the opponent’s court.”
Salem State got off to a fast start as they built an early 28-22 lead halfway through the first quarter.
According to Farroba, the Bears were able to weather Salem’s early offensive attack until they were able to go on their offensive run.
The Bears waited until the end of the first half to break free with a 20-8 run that ended with sophomore guard Tyler DeMelo knocking down a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bears a 45-36 halftime advantage.
Farroba said the run and DeMelo’s three-pointer before halftime were key moments in the game.
Junior forward Michael Lofton had a strong showing in the first half and throughout the game, as he scored 12 of his 24 points in the opening half and grabbed 13 rebounds.
With 2:16 remaining in the first half, a layup by Lofton put him in the record books as he became the 27th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark.
Lofton redeemed himself in the championship game, as he came off a poor showing in the semifinal round against Worcester State when he scored only two points and turned the ball over four times.
“After a horrid performance that I put on for my team in the game against Worcester, even though we won, I promised my teammates that since they had my back that game, I would have their back against Salem,” Lofton said. “I knew that I wasn’t going to have two games like that in a row, that’s why I was glad it happened in the semifinal game instead of the championship.”
In the second half, Salem State closed within one, 65-64, with 3:30 left in regulation, but the Bears responded yet again as senior guard Brendan Monteiro scored five straight points. Monteiro ended up scoring 18 of his 24 points in the second half.
Lofton, Monteiro, and junior forward Kyle Gibson hit free throws down the stretch to secure a victory and Bridgewater State’s seventh MASCAC title.
“It’s a feeling of relief that all of our hard work had finally paid off and it feels pretty sweet to win the championship when everybody was doubting us all season, ” Lofton said.
Lofton ended up getting tournament MVP honors, but that didn’t go without some controversy.
Farroba said he thought Monteiro deserved the honor due to Monteiro’s performance throughout the tournament.
In the semifinal round, Monteiro led the Bears as he scored 31 points in a 66-62 win over Worcester State.
“Coach saw me hit a few, called a couple more sets for me, trusted me with the ball and let me do my thing there,” said Monteiro after the Worcester State game.
The Bears will now see if they can keep on proving the doubters wrong as they head into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
And while the doubters are starting to grab for more ammunition on why this team can’t win in the postseason, the Bears are not hearing any of it.
“Let’s win a game,” Farroba said. “We have done it before. Let’s not be happy just getting there. Let’s go out and compete and go get one.”
Greg Dudek is The Comment’s Editor-In-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at gdudek10 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.