Vazquez, Devine Double Trouble For Salem State: Westfield State Wins Conference Opener, 80-54

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WESTFIELD, Mass. – Junior guard Lee Vazquez had game highs of 35 points and seven steals and junior center Matt Devine racked up a school record nine blocked shots and a career high 18 points to power Westfield State University to an 85-54 victory over Salem State University in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference opener on Saturday, Jan. 7.
The Owls improved their overall record to 9-5 after the resounding victory over Salem (7-6), a perennial power in the MASCAC.
"It was our best game of the season," said Westfield head coach Rich Sutter. "On primary focus today was to play good team defense."
Vazquez concurred with his coach despite his explosive scoring outburst that included 22 points in the second half and a perfect 11-for-11 from the free throw line.
"We started the season 5-0 (record) by pressing (defensively) and we got back to that today," said Vazquez, a 5-6 guard who ranks second nationally in steals per game (4.3) and 13th in scoring (23.1). "The key to our defense is our core (defense in the lane). We have guys inside with height and length and we can take advantage of that by taking chances outside. If we get beat we have the stoppers inside."
The statistics bear out Vazquez's analysis. The Owls ranked first in the nation in NCAA Division III in blocked shots per game (7.5) and second nationally in field goal defense (35 percent) prior to the Salem game, in which Westfield rejected 10 shots. Salem only shot 25 percent from the field and committed 24 turnovers.
The 6-7 Devine, who nearly missed a triple-double with nine points, 18 boards and nine blocks, had eight of his blocks in the second half (also a school record for a half) and a game-high five assists. Devine ranks first nationally in blocks per game (4.9).
"Matt played an outstanding game," said Sutter. "Salem is a very big and physical team but Matt did not back down and he was ripping those rebounds with authority."
With the score tied at 12-all midway through the first half, Westfield's relentlessness on both ends of the court began to wear down Salem. The Owls led 31-17 with 3:13 left in the first half but Salem sliced the halftime lead to 34-28 by canning 13 of 21 free throws in the first half, most in the closing minutes.
Despite the 31-point victory, Westfield only led by nine, 48-39, with 12:27 remaining in the game.  The Owls put away the game with a 16-0 run over the next four minutes.
"Our primary goal today was pound the ball inside to our big men; that was our first option in the flex offense and we did it effectively," said Vazquez. "The points I scored were just through the flow of the game and by running the floor."
Westfield's only other player scoring in double figures with 10 points was senior forward Ryan DeLosa, who continually took the ball to the basket, challenging the Vikings' tall frontcourt. He also had six rebounds and two steals in 20 minutes of action.
Freshman forward Grant Cooper played well defensively and finished with nine points. Westfield shot 43 percent for the field and won the boards battle, 51-44.
Nate Simpson's was Salem's only player in double figures with 14 points; he also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Senior forward Brian Clark, the reigning MASCAC player of the year, tallied nine points in 22 minutes.