Babson brings more balance in Salem return

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Nick Comenale, who was named to the All-Region team this week, shoots 43 percent from three and averages 15.8 points per game for the Beavers.
Photo by Dean Reid,

By Matt Noonan 

All season, the Babson College men’s basketball team played what senior Joey Flannery described as ‘unselfish’ basketball.

And it was this particular style of play that allowed the Beavers to rattle off four impressive NCAA Division III Tournament victories en route to this week’s semifinal in Salem, Virginia

Babson, which enters the national semifinal ranked No. 3 in the country, will face top-ranked Whitman, which is the last undefeated team at any level of NCAA men's basketball.

“We play so unselfishly that we’re going to get looks (on the floor),” said Flannery, who led the Beavers with a game-high 29 points in last Saturday's 102-79 win over Keene State in the sectional finals.

That unselfish play was on full display Saturday evening at Babson Park – everyone touched the ball, while locating the open shooter. And when it came time to fire a shot, it wasn’t just Flannery who netted clutch baskets, but also classmates Charlie Rice and Isaiah Nelsen, along with junior Nick Comenale, who was lethal from beyond the arc, especially in the opening minutes of the second half.

“When you play with players like Joey, Isaiah, Chuck and Matt Droney, it is just easy to do my job,” said Comenale, who netted five triples in Saturday’s sectional final.

Added Babson men’s basketball coach Stephen Brennan, “When Nick starts making threes, I feel like it is contagious and great plays happen.”

Comenale’s trifectas indeed sparked Babson’s offense – not only was he sinking shots, both from the top of the key and in the corner -- but so were Nelsen, Bradley Jacks, Rice, Flannery and junior Chris Lowry. 

“I am just really excited that we got the win,” said Brennan, “we’re excited to be continuing to play.”

Isaiah Nelsen enters the final weekend shooting 63 percent from the field.
Photo by Dean Reid, 

Similar to Brennan, the Babson seniors are eager for an additional week of basketball, too. This group just loves to play – sure, it sounds cliché, but it is the honest truth.

And while their last visit to Salem ended with a disappointing setback to Augustana, which is also headed to Salem this weekend, this Beavers squad seems more determined – not saying they weren’t two years ago – to leave Virginia with some hardware.

“It feels good to be headed back to Salem,” said Flannery. “For this group of seniors, it has been a goal for us from the beginning of the year, so it feels good to be headed back, but we still have some work to do here.”

Added Rice, “We’re so close (as seniors) and we play so hard for each other, (along with) the juniors and freshmen as well, so we’re excited to go (back to Salem) and we feel more confident going this time.” 

That confidence certainly was on display all season as Babson matched its 2014-15 squad with 29 victories. And it shouldn’t come as a total surprise, but Flannery, who was tabbed the Northeast Player of the Year for the third consecutive season, has helped his squad reach the semifinals for the second time in three seasons by averaging an impressive 30 points per game this postseason.  

Flannery also established a new single-season record for points (703) and is now the active Division III scoring leader with 2,573 points, passing Ripon's Ty Sabin last weekend.

“(We) won’t get caught-up in all the hype being down there,” said Flannery. “We’ll be able to treat it like a business trip and go down there and focus on the game as much as possible, and just try to take care of business.”

It would be quite a moment for Flannery and his classmates to celebrate the program’s first-ever national title. It certainly would mean a lot, not just to him, but also to Nelsen and Droney who transferred into Babson after spending at least one year playing Division II basketball in the competitive Northeast-10 Conference.  

“These guys are like family to me,” said Nelsen, who played at Saint Anselm’s College for two seasons before transferring into Babson last school year. “It just feels great to have the opportunity to go to the final four this year.”  

Babson will begin its trek to Salem mid-week, allowing the student-athletes enough time to get acclimated to the Civic Center. The Beavers, who have won all four NCAA Tournament games at home, will be competing for the first time on a neutral court this postseason, but that shouldn’t have any affect on the Green and White as they strive to complete their season with a national title.

Said Flannery, “(My) four years here have been great. I’ve never looked back on anything, never had any regrets. The coaching staff has been great (and) all the players, too…I knew this was the place for me and it has been great.”