Bears Advance to MASCAC Title Game with 57-56 Semifinal Win over Westfield
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. – Senior center Samuel Johnson (N. Chelmsford, MA) and junior guard Anthony Fortes (Providence, RI) combined for 27 points as they helped lead second-seeded Bridgewater State to a thrilling 57-56 victory over #2 Westfield State in the semifinals of the MASCAC Men's Basketball Tournament this evening at the Tinsley Center.
With the triumph the Bears move to 15-10 overall and advance to their eighth conference championship game at top-seed Salem State on Saturday at 2 PM. The Vikings defeated #5 MCLA, 96-75, in the other semifinal matchup.
BSU will face-off at Salem State in the title game for the sixth time as the Bears have vied for the tournament crown in five out of the last six years. The Owls see their 2011-12 season come to a close at 16-11.
Johnson paced the hosts with 15 points as Fortes added 12 points, a contest-best six assists and five steals. Freshman forward Michael Lofton (Mansfield, MA) came off the bench to produce a game-high 10 boards with eight points and five blocks.
Westfield State was propelled by junior guard Lee Vazquez (Attleboro, MA) who tallied 22 points and six steals as classmate Matt Devine (Pembroke, MA) recorded 17 points, eight caroms and five blocks. Freshman forward Grant Cooper (Northampton, MA) chipped in with 10 points and four helpers in 23 minutes of action.
After not scoring much in the opening frame, Vazquez and Devine poured in 25 of their 39 points in the second stanza.
Sparked by a three-point play by Johnson and four trifectas, the Bears went on a 17-4 run to turn a one point (31-30) lead into a 48-34 advantage at the 10:05 mark of the second half. Junior guard Brendan McDonald (Dorchester, MA) connected for two of the four trey's in the run for his only points of the contest to help lift Bridgewater State to their largest margin of the game.
Westfield State responded with a furious 17-3 spurt over the next six minutes to knot the score at 51-51 with 4:56 remaining as Vazquez and Devine would hit back-to-back three-points to equal the contest.
Over the next 57 seconds, the two squads would combined for three turnovers and BSU missed a pair of free throws before Fortes snapped the tie with a pair of buckets from the charity stripe with 3:59 left.
Lofton would come up huge for the Bears with block and a rebound to hold the visitors scoreless on their next two possessions culminating with a thunderous dunk for the 55-51 advantage with 2:49 remaining.
Vazquez promptly responded with a trey to cut the deficit to one point, but then after a Fortes missed field goal, Johnson would come up with a key offensive board to set-up Lofton who came up with another dunk. Junior guard Shawn Yard (Brockton, MA) would set the table for both of Lofton's clutch scores.
After Yard helped cause a Westfield State turnover with 57 ticks remaining, Johnson missed a running jumper and then Devine made it a one-point contest with an easy lay-up with 17 seconds left. '
The Owls caught a break after they were forced to foul when the Bears missed both ends of a two-shot foul. Devine would take the games final shot at the buzzer on a 15-footer, but his attempt was wide of the basket.
Following three ties and a pair of lead changes to start off the first stanza, the Bears went on an 11-2 surge to lead 15-8 with 8:12 left. Senior center Marcellus Lee (Quincy, MA) and Vazquez combined for five points to slice the advantage to 15-13, but the hosts used a 9-3 push to open up a 24-16 game with 1:10 left.
The hosts would cough up the ball four times in the final minute thanks in part to three swipes by Vazquez. He would also net the final four points of the frame with a pair from the free throw line and a jump shot to make it a 24-20 score at the intermission.
The Owls shrugged off a porous performance from the floor in the opening period as they connected on just 7 of 27 field goal attempts to start off the game (26 percent). The visitors finished shooting a blistering 54 percent (13-for-24) in the second period and they connected on four of six from beyond the arc. Westfield had the 26-22 edge in points in the paint and an 18-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
Bridgewater State hit a solid 42 percent of their shots (22-for-52) as they also led in rebounds (37-29), offensive boards (12-8) and second-chance points (20-6).
Neither team shot well from the charity stripe as Westfield State canned 11 of their 19 tries (58 percent). After not attempting a free throw in the first half, the Bears were 6 for 11 (55 percent) over the final 20 minutes.
However, the two squads distributed the ball well. The Owls handed out 15 assists for 20 made field goals and Bridgewater State dished out 17 helpers and scored on 22 baskets.