DUDLEY, Mass. — It was a battle of two of the best teams in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC), as the No. 2 seed Endicott men's basketball team fell just short, 67-64, Saturday afternoon inside the Nichols Athletic Center against the top-seeded Bison.
In a game filled with raw emotion fueled by a raucous crowd, Nichols went on to celebrate their first-ever CCC Championship. When the final buzzer sounded, the Gulls felt the heartbreak of the "could have, should have, would have" moments left lingering on the floor in a shot at raising their third-straight banner.
Four years. Three championship appearances in a row. Two conference titles.
They gave it their all.
While there was no trifecta today for Kamahl Walker (Worcester, Mass.), Daquan Sampson (Germantown, Md.), Drew Sawyer (Norwalk, Conn.), Stephen Basden (Lynn, Mass.), Chris Lipscomb (West Springfield, Mass.), and Max Motroni (West Warwick, R.I.), one game won't define the legacy these six seniors leave behind.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The first half was littered with runs, as Nichols raced out to a 13-2 lead and was up by as much as 12 with 8:30 to go in the opening stanza before the Gulls soared back to knot it at 15 apiece.
The Bison then responded with a 12-0 run to grab a 27-15 lead and took a 40-29 lead into the locker room at the break.
The Gulls opened the second half with a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to one, down 40-39, before Motroni evened the score at 48-all minutes later at 10:18.
Walker's layup at the 7:44 mark then gave the Gulls their first lead of the game at 52-50—one they would extend to a seven-point spread with Lipscomb hitting from beyond the arc with 1:41 remaining.
Despite hitting just 7-of-25 from the field (5-of-19 from three), sophomore guard Marcos Echevarria (Lynn, Mass.) did what the CCC Player of the Year does best. He sank three of his four treys on the day with under 5:27 left.
After the Gulls turned the ball over for a five-second violation at midcourt, Echevarria hit arguably his most important three with 13 ticks left to give the Bison a 65-64 edge greeted by a deafening eruption from the boistrous Nichols' crowd.
Echevarria then nailed a pair of clutch free throws in the waning seconds to lead the Bison to their first-ever CCC Championship victory in their fourth-straight year as the tournament's No. 1 seed.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
- Walker and Motroni each scored 16 points to pace the Gulls, while Lipscomb chipped in 10 points to join them in double figures.
- Motroni earned his first double-double of the season (second career) as he grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, and Basden pulled down 10 boards to go with seven points.
- This senior class is two twins shy of becoming the winningest group of Gulls to ever come through the Endicott men's basketball program.
FOR THE FOES
- Echevarria poured in a game-high 23 points for his 20th game this season scoring at least 20.
- Freshman guard/ CCC Rookie of the Year DeAnte Bruton (New London, Conn.) dialed in for 12 points.
- Senior forward Devin Stallings (Waterbury, Conn.) tied a team-high with 10 rebounds and added nine points.
- Nichols freshman Jerome Cunningham (Westbury, N.Y.) recorded his fifth-straight double-double as he filled the stat sheet with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks.
- The Bison extended their win streak to 11 straight games.
- Nichols scored 23 points off 12 Gulls' turnovers.
- The Bison appeared in their second CCC Championship in the past four years and first since the 2013-14 season when they lost, 69-65, to Gordon.
- Today's contest marked the 28th all-time meeting between the programs and third this season.
- The two-time defending conference champion Gulls still hold a 17-11 edge in the series with the teams splitting this year's regular-season contests.
- Endicott won, 93-80, on January 14 before Bruton poured in a game-high 38 points in a 92-87 win for the Bison on February 8.
- Endicott has won four of the past seven meetings.
- Last postseason, Endicott and Nichols met in the CCC Semifinals with the Gulls prevailing, 82-80.
- If Endicott had been victorious, it would've been the fourth time in CCC history one team has won three men's basketball championships in a row.
The continuation of the Gulls' (22-6) season rides on the prospect of entering the 2017 NCAA DIII Men's Basketball Tournament as an at-large bid. The entire field of pairings will be announced on Monday, February 27 during the annual NCAA Selection Show at 12:30 p.m. EST. Nichols (23-5) earned the conference's automatic qualifier into the Big Dance as this season's CCC Champion.
2017 CCC MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
(Games hosted by the higher seed)
Quarterfinals – Tuesday, Feb. 21
#1 Nichols def. #8 University of New England, 89-71 | BOX
#2 Endicott def. #7 Salve Regina, 110-64 | BOX
#6 Eastern Nazarene def. #3 Roger Williams, 83-78 | BOX
#5 Wentworth def. #4 Gordon, 82-75 | BOX
Semifinals – Thursday, Feb. 23
#1 Nichols def. #5 Wentworth, 83-74 | BOX
#2 Endicott def. #6 Eastern Nazarene, 84-66 | BOX
Finals – Saturday, Feb. 25
#1 Nichols 67, #2 Endicott 64 | BOX