WESTFIELD – Tournament MVP Grant Cooper scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, leading Westfield State to a 78-69 win over Bridgewater State in the 2015 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference men’s basketball title game Saturday.
Top seeded Westfield State improves to 20-6, and has won 15 of their last 16.
The Owls reached the 20 win plateau for the third time in program history and the second in the last three years under coach Rich Sutter.
“I thought our kids played well,” said Sutter. “I didn’t think we shot the ball great, but we played tough defensively and that covered up a little bit. Cooper was outstanding for us all day on both ends of the floor.”
Westfield shot 29-66 from the floor (44 percent), but connected on just one of 14 tries from beyond the arc.
Westfield led 39-30 at the half behind 12 points and nine rebounds from Grant Cooper and 10 points from Andre King.
With the score tied 15-all, Westfield used a 20-8 spurt through the middle stages of the first half to build a leads as big as 12 points, 35-23, when Cooper picked up a rebound, out-letting the ball to Andre King, who found Robbie Jones streaking to the hoop for an easy layup with 4:09 left forcing a Bears’ timeout.
Westfield led by as many as 17 points in the second half.
Bridgewater closed with a flurry to get the lead down to seven, 76-69, on a Kyle Gibson layup with nine seconds to go, but Westfield’s Dan Tessier shook loose for a breakaway dunk with four seconds left to seal the victory.
Senior guard Andre King helped lift the Owls with 19 points and three assists, and Robbie Jones added 12. The Owls got a huge lift off the bench from sophomore Shane Pasquantonio, who scored 11 points on five of six shooting and played clutch minutes with Cooper battling foul trouble in the second half.
Westfield’s senior starting five of Cooper, Tessier, King, Jones and Dan Johnson have been the critical factor in the Owls’ stretch run.
“I think Westfield State has a transformational spirit,” said Sutter. “This group came through the door one way and they are walking out the door another – as champions – four years later.”
With today’s win, the Owls avenged their only loss in that 16-game stretch, and in conference play, having fallen at Bridgewater in overtime back on February 3.
There weren’t a lot of surprises in the game,” said Sutter. “We’ve played them so much it was pretty straight forward. I didn’t think that they shot the ball particularly well.”
Bridgewater finished 27-70 from the floor and just 1-17 from three point range.
Westfield State had never won the MASCAC tournament title in the 24-year history of the league tournament. With the win the Owls secure the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid, with details on any NCAA games officially announced on Monday. Westfield reached the NCAA tournament in both 1985 and 1993.
“I feel like we are vindicated in a way,” said Sutter. “We’ve always tried to do things the right way with our program, and maybe that takes a little longer to get to the top.”
Second-seeded Bridgewater State finishes 18-8. Senior forward Michael Lofton, the league’s player of the year, led Bridgewater with a career-high 33 points and nine rebounds. Kyle Gibson added 13 points for the Bears.