Bell collects game-best 22 points for Falcons to close out season
FITCHBURG, Mass. – The top seeded Falcons of Fitchburg State dropped a tough 71-68 decision to the fifth seeded Lancers of Worcester State University in semifinal final round action of the 2016-17 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Men's Basketball postseason tournament at the Parkinson Gymnasium this evening.
The Lancers overcame a 62-59 deficit over the final ten minutes of the game, dropping nine unanswered points in crunch time to complete an energized comeback on the road - their second-straight road victory in the playoffs.
Worcester State senior Paul Brooks had a huge game when it mattered most, leading his team with a double-double (19 points & 18 rebounds) while recording seven blocks. Classmate Ryan DiBernardo added 17 points on 5-for-16 (4-for-7 from three point range) and logged a team-high 38 minutes of action.
Fitchburg State was paced by senior Jaleel Bell's game best 22 points on 8-for-21 from the field, while adding six rebounds and five steals for the Green and Gold, while freshman Nicholas Tracy put up 13 points to go along with four rebounds, three steals, and three blocks.
Worcester State began the game still riding momentum from its first-round win over Westfield State, and it was evident as the Lancers took an early 9-4 lead with DiBernardo scoring five points during that time.
Fitchburg State broke out of its early slump with 13:24 left in the first half, controlling an 11-2 scoring run and taking a one-point lead (18-17). Senior Jalen Williams set the tone offensively during the span with five points.
Throughout the final ten minutes of the first half the two teams battled back-and-fourth, but neither were able to gain separation before Brooks took control of the inside game for the Lancers, scoring eight points to help his team head into the locker room with its one-point lead (35-34).
The game unfolded after halftime much like it did to start the first half as it was competitive and very close on the scoreboard.
The teams matched buckets until Fitchburg State embarked on a 23-6 scoring run to take the largest lead of the game, 62-50 with 10:43 remaining in the second frame.
Worcester State responded roughly a minute later DiBernardo connected on a pair of three pointers bookended a conversion inside the paint from Brooks, reducing the gap to four-points (62-58).
With five minutes left and still trailing, 66-59, Worcester State turned it up on both sides of the court, playing stingy defense, while converting it to points on the offensive end.
After a layup from Josh Bosworth pushed the lead up to 68-59 for Fitchburg State, the Lancers answered right back as DiBernardo hit a layup before Maynard-native, freshman Cal Howes buried a triple, cutting the lead again to four points with four minutes left in the game.
From there, Worcester State continued its pressure scoring five unanswered before senior guard Aaron Anniballi put the game out of reach for good, knocking down a pair of free throws from the charity stripe, and giving the Lancers a 71-68 lead.
Fitchburg State made one final attempt to force overtime with seven seconds left, hoisting a corner three pointer, but Worcester State was able to coral the rebound, resulting in the 71-68 final.
Throughout the game, Worcester State held the margin on the glass by a 48-42 mark, while finishing with a 19-14 edge in assists and second-chance points (18-16). Fitchburg State shot 26-for-67 overall (38.8%) and 7-for-16 shots from beyond the arc (43.8%), while the Lancers finished 26-for-68 overall (38.2%) and 7-for-21 from three point range (33.3%).
For Worcester State, senior Jeremy Bacon picked up the Lancers' second double-double of the night, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 37 minutes of action. Anniballi and junior Corey Gatta added eight and seven points respectively.
For the Falcons, Bosworth picked up ten points on 4-for-13 shooting while adding seven rebounds, while senior guard Leonny Burgos feel shy of a double-double with a game-high nine assists, eight points as well as five rebounds and four steals. Junior Mustapha Koroma was also solid for the Falcons, finishing with a bench-high eight points in 18 minutes of action.
Fitchburg State concludes its 2016-17 campaign with an over record of 15-11 and a 10-2 clip in conference play, while the fifth seeded Lancers of Worcester State University (10-17, 6-6 MASCAC) will take on second seeded Salem State in the MASCAC championship game on Saturday February 25th with tip-off coming at 1:00 PM.
Release Courtesy Of Fitchburg State Student Journalist Kyle Prudhomme