By Kurtis Kendall
Playoff time arrived for the Fitchburg State Falcons Men’s basketball team and the regular season couldn’t have ended on a better note. The Falcons defeated Bridgewater State in their season finale, the same team who beat Fitchburg in last year’s MASCAC Championship.
Even better than the win alone, the victory clinched Fitchburg’s spot as the third seed for the postseason tournament, finishing 7-5 in conference play. This put the Falcons one win above Bridgewater, but unfortunately just a win behind Westfield State for the second seed.
This year’s Fitchburg State squad looked even better than last years team that went all the way to finals, only losing by 5 points in a close bout. Fitchburg State improved across the board in most statistical team categories this year, as well as improving their win total.
Fitchburg State played Worcester State in the quarterfinals, who the Falcons beat twice in the regular season. However, despite Worcester’s 4-8 in-conference play, the Lancers finished with a similar overall record to Fitchburg’s at 11-14. The Lancers also only dropped their previous games to the Falcons by four points each during the season.
The Falcons were able to get the better of the Lancers once again, with Fitchburg State advancing in the MASCAC tournament with a 67-55 victory. The Lancers were able to keep the bout close, trading buckets with Fitchburg into the second half. Around the midpoint of the second half, Fitchburg started to pull away thanks to big shots from junior guard Jonathan Perez, along with junior guards Nicholas Tracy and Tyrell St. John. The Falcons stretched their lead to as many as 17 points, and Worcester State could never get back in the game.
Perez lead all scorers with 18 points, including 5 three-pointers. Tracy and junior guard Andre Ruff also scored in double figures.
Up next for Fitchburg State was the Westfield State Owls, the second seed in the MASCAC tournament. The Falcons had beaten the Westfield earlier in the season and only a week prior, Fitchburg State had fallen just short to the Owls, losing by 5 points in a contest that came down to the last few possessions.
Redemption for the close loss looked like it might be on the table for the Falcons, but unfortunately for the Fitchburg State, they fell just short of advancing to the MASCAC championship in back to back years.
The game was back and forth early, with Fitchburg State taking a marginal five point lead, 24-19, at about the midpoint of the first half. The Falcons were able to stretch their lead to eight points thanks in part to junior guard Andre Ruff, who led the team in scoring with 19 points to go along with 4 assists.
Westfield State battled back however, going on a 19-7 run to erase the deficit and put themselves up 40-36 at half time.
For most of the second half the two teams were evenly matched, with neither gaining a lead of more than three or four points. With five minutes left in the game, Westfield State sophomore guard Malik Pouncy hit a three-pointer to put the Owls ahead by six.
The Owls held onto their lead for the rest of the game, with the Falcons cutting it down to three points, 71-68, with 38 seconds remaining. The free throw battle to end the game did not work out in Fitchburg’s favor, with Westfield State securing the victory 78-72.
Both teams made 27 shots in the game but the difference was in the free throws, with Westfield State going 20-30 from the line as opposed to the Falcons going 12-17 from the charity strip.
Fitchburg State junior guard Nicholas Tracy scored 13 points, while junior forward Devan Harris contributed 9 points in 18 minutes. Junior forwards Charles Doss and Jordan Jones both put up 8 points and 5 rebounds respectively.
Fitchburg State finishes the season with a 13-14 overall record, going 1-1 in the MASCAC postseason tournament.