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Salem State big winners from Big 4 Challenge

Salem State celebrates its New England Big 4 Challenge trophy after beating Babson on Sunday.
Salem State athletics photo
 
It was a special weekend for Salem State, which saw its men’s basketball team capture its first-ever New England Big 4 Challenge trophy on Sunday with a 75-70 win over Babson.
 
The New England Big 4 Challenge has taken place the last nine years with four Massachussets teams taking part -- Babson, Brandeis, Salem State and Tufts. This year the tournament returned to Tufts, which was the original site for the event in 2009. The Vikings were clearly the big winners by scoring wins over the defending national champions and the host Jumbos who eliminated Salem State from the 2017 NCAA Division III Tournament in March.

“The kids have just come to play (this season),” said Salem State coach Chris Harvey, who was once an assistant coach for the Tufts men’s basketball team. “I am proud of how we came out of this weekend against two good teams and put ourselves in this position (to win the cup).”
 
The win over Babson, Salem State’s sixth of the season, was highlighted by the play of Drew Healy, who recorded a double-double of 14 points and 17 rebounds (13 defensive caroms), which earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team.
 
Rayshaw Matthews, who was elected the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), turned in 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal against the Beavers, while Sean Bryan added nine points off the bench, including a pair of freebies during the final seconds, which helped the Vikings clinch the win.
 
Salem State’s Shaquan Murray led all scorers with 26 points – he connected on 10 of 18 attempts – while Babson received 20 points from Nick Comenale, who connected on four of nine attempts from beyond the arc.
 
Before Babson and Salem State competed in Sunday’s championship, fans witnessed an exciting consolation clash between Tufts and Brandies that saw the Jumbos escape with a 76-74 victory, thanks to a game-winning trey by Vincent Pace as time expired.
 
While this past weekend maybe recalled by some weeks from now as a big win for the Vikings, it will certainly be remembered by the coaches that assembled this two day event as not just a way to play basketball against each other every year, but an opportunity to continue long-lasting friendships, along with support for all four programs, too.

“The camaraderie amongst the coaches has always been what makes it a special weekend,” said Babson coach Stephen Brennan, who has guided the Beavers to a trio of New England Big 4 Challenge titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016.  
 
“We chose the four schools because we are all friends off the court, have known one another for many years and support one another well beyond basketball.”
 
Added Harvey with a big smile, “We are all close friends, so we get our little jabs in here and there.”
 
In addition to the camaraderie, the tournament’s trophy has a special meaning to all four coaches since it is named after the late Michael Crotty Sr., who was the Founder and Director of the Middlesex Magic AAU. Crotty's son, Michael Jr., was a two-time All-American at Williams and a key leader for its 2003 national championship squad. Similar to his father, the Younger Crotty has a special relationship to the four coaches and presented the trophy this weekend. 
 
“(My father) was close with all four of these coaches and programs, so I think the New England Big Four Challenge became the equivalent of the ACC Big Challenge,” said Crotty Jr.. “To have the trophy named after him is a nice memory.”
 
Added Brennan, “Naming the championship trophy after the late Mike Crotty has a great meaning for me as he, and his family, through the Middlesex Magic Basketball Club have always sent each school quality, impactful student-athletes, and his legacy lives on through Mike Jr. Mike Sr. was a great friend to each of us and it’s great to keep his family involved.”

The New England Big 4 Challenge is a weekend all Division III hoops fans should consider taking in at some point soon. Next year will mark the 10th season the four teams will get together.
 
Meanwhile Salem State has some momentum headed into its upcoming games against WPI and Endicott. 
 
“This team is continuing to grow, we are continuing to gain confidence and trust with each other,” said Harvey. “This was a fun environment and I'm just proud of our kids.”
 
Extra, Extra from New England
 
Congratulations are due to a few coaches and student-athletes that reached a few impressive milestones over the past week.
 
Let’s start with Springfield College women’s basketball coach Naomi Graves, who won her 400th game with the Pride this past weekend when they defeated Wellesley, 51-29. Gracie Restituyo matched her career high of 15 rebounds in the win. Springfield is now 4-2 overall and 2-0 in NEWMAC play.
 
Not too far from Springfield, Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki picked up his 300th win last Thursday when the Mammoths topped Eastern Connecticut, 72-54. Amherst has never lost more than four games in a season under Gromacki who also had successful stints at St. Lawrence and Hamilton. The defending champs are off to another impressive start, winning their first six games. 

MIT’s initial NEWMAC win of the season – a 69-52 win over Smith – provided coach Sonia Raman with her 100th win on the sidelines. Per the game’s release, Raman became the first coach in program history to reach 100 career wins. The Engineers have rebounded from an 80-60 loss to Bowdoin with back-to-back wins over Smith and Mount Holyoke. 

Tufts’ Melissa Baptista became the 14th member of the women’s basketball program to reach 1,000 points in her team’s 64-44 win over Bridgewater State. Baptista concluded the contest with 12 points and five rebounds.
 
Roger Williams’ Austin Coene became the 25th member of the men’s basketball team to reach 1,000 points this past Saturday – he netted 23 points, while pulling down 12 boards in a convincing 107-76 win over University of New England. 

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Columnist

Matt Noonan

Matt Noonan is the head editor and founder of NoontimeSports.com, a New England Division III college sports blog that covers basketball, football and lacrosse. Noonan's work has been featured on ESPN.com, BostonLax.net, VentureFizz.com and Patch.com, and has appeared in the Boston Globe, along with other digital and print outlets. No stranger to Division III, Noonan spent time as an Athletics Communications Assistant and Sports Information Assistant at MIT, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Wheaton College, and was recently an Associate Producer at Lax Sports Network where he oversaw a trio of weekly shows, while assisting producers, on-air talent, production assistants and directors with daily programming. Noonan graduated from Wheaton College in May 2010 -- Go Lyons! -- and currently resides in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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