NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Trailblazers swarmed the third-seeded Salem State University Vikings in the second half as they pulled away for a convincing 77-59 victory in the semifinals of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
With the win, the second-seeded Trailblazers will now host Fitchburg State University for the MASCAC championship on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Falcons defeated the top-seeded Westfield State Owls, 68-61, in on the road Thursday evening. The Trailblazers and Falcons split the season series with each team winning on
their home court.
John Jones had a game-high 23 points to lead Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on 8-12 shooting. Paul Maurice was the only other Trailblazer in double figures, finishing with 11 points. The Trailblazers doubled-up on Salem in the second half, 40-20, and held the Vikings to just 7-35 shooting in the decisive half.
MCLA trailed 39-37 at halftime, but after a few adjustments, clamped down on the visitors. Bilal Shabazz' drive tied the score at 39, but Salem's Bryan Ortiz drilled a three to put the Vikings ahead 42-39 with 18:46 left to play. That's when the Vikings went ice cold. Over the next 11 minutes, Salem only mustered a free throw. The dry spell allowed MCLA to go on a 18-1 run that changed the course of the game.
Maurice's 3-pointer started the run and a Jones layup gave MCLA the lead for good at the 17:49 mark. Another triple from Maurice gave the Trailblazers a five-point lead. Meanwhile, Salem couldn't buy a basket. At one point, they missed 17 consecutive shots as MCLA steadily built their lead until Justin Nieves finally connected in the paint. By that time, MCLA led 57-45 with under eight to play.
Salem had hope after Hanell Valez drained his second 3-pointer of the night to pull the Vikings within nine at 57-48, however MCLA responded with an 8-2 run to put the game out of reach.