By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — No matter what the sport is, beating a team three times in the same season is always a huge challenge.
The Salem State men’s basketball team found that out the hard way Saturday afternoon in the MASCAC championship game, falling to visiting Bridgewater State, 83-73.
The Vikings came in as the No. 1 seed and had defeated Bridgewater twice during the regular season.They fought gallantly right to the end Saturday, but saw an early lead disappear before halftime and were behind the rest of the way.
The win gave Bridgewater State an automatic bid into the NCAA Division 3 tournament.
“It just wasn’t our night,” said head coach Chris Harvey, whose team ended its season at 17-9. “Bridgewater shot 63 percent in the first half. I didn’t think our defense was that bad; we ran into a buzzsaw. In the last 14 minutes of the first half they couldn’t miss.
“In the second half we kept chipping away but couldn’t get over the hump. Every time we were right there, a shot didn’t get down. Honestly, I still feel we are the better team.”
The Bears took a nine-point lead into halftime after a buzzer-beating trey by Tyler DeMelo. Harvey felt that was a huge play because instead of starting the second half behind by six, his team trailed by nine (45-36).
Junior guards Bryan Ortiz of Salem (a team-high 21 points) and Nick Grassa of Lynn (18) led the Vikings and had five 3-pointers between them. Grassa provided the spark to get the hosts back in the game with 13 second half points; his old-fashioned three-point play made it 65-64 before the Bears ran off the next nine points.
“When we cut it to one and had the ball, I thought things were changing. But we couldn’t get that lead,” said Harvey. “We had locked in on defense, making it harder for them to score, but these are the kinds of games when little things make a difference. If you have mental breakdowns, turnovers and travel infractions they may not seem big at the time, but they add up.”
Salem State was forced to foul and the Bears hit enough shots to maintain their lead. MASCAC tourney MVP Michael Lofton and Brendan Monteiro each had 24 points for the winners while Kyle Gibson was in double figures with 15. Lofton also had 13 big rebounds while Gibson had eight.
One of the big factors in the game was rebounding, where BSU held a 38-28 advantage. Another was shots made in the paint (a 42-34 advantage for the visitors).
Senior captain Andrew White, a First Team All-MASCAC selection, had a fine all-around game for the Vikings with 10 points and eight boards. Hamed Akanni was also in double figures with 13 points before fouling out.
White, Ryan Salvador (a former Lynn Tech player) and Robert Morin are graduating, but everybody else will return for Salem State in 2014-15.
Bridgewater State 83, Salem State 73
at Gym, City
Bridgewater State: Lofton 9-6-24; Dunleavy 0-0-0; Gibson 5-5-15; Soares 0-0-0; Murphy 2-0-5; DeMelo 1-0-3; Monteiro 8-7-24; Grossman 1-2-5; Clark 1-0-3; Allen 0-0-0; Spencer 2-0-5 Totals 34-20-83.
Salem State: Perez 1-1-4; Grassa 7-2-18; White 4-2-10; Ortiz 8-2-21; Morin 0-0-0; Akanni 5-3-13; Parenteau 2-0-3; Hodges 0-1-1; Salvador 2-0-4. Totals 28-11-73.
Halftime: Bridgewater State, 45-36
3-pointers: BSU, Murphy, DeMelo, Monteiro, Clark, Spencer; SSU, Ortiz 3, Grassa 2, Perez.
Records: BSU 16-11; SSU 17-9.