The Massasoit men’s basketball team captured the Region 21 Championship in thrilling fashion on Sunday afternoon, defeating Bristol 77-74 in overtime to punch its ticket to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time in program history.
With the victory, Massasoit (20-6) earned its second regional crown in program lore and its first as a NJCAA Division III program. As Region 21 Champions, the Warriors will head to the NJCAA National Tournament, hosted by Sullivan County CC (NY) for the first time in the 50 years of basketball at Massasoit.
Big-shot Bobby Belezos (Holbrook) led the Warriors in scoring, finishing with 19 points, featuring four 3-pointers and went a perfect 7-for-7 at the charity stripe. Mark Georges (Brockton) added 16 points, going 10 for 11 at the line.
Tournament MVP Rael Handy netted 13 points, grabbed nine boards and dished out five assists, while Rollsky Edouard (Holbrook) drained a trio of 3s, one that sent the game to overtime, as he tallied 14 points. Center Mark Munroe (Quincy) added eight points and nine boards and Jared Costa-Haywood (Stoughton) scored seven clutch points off the bench, including a pair of free throws in the game’s final seconds to secure the win.
The Warriors started slowly against the top-seed Bayhawks, playing less than 24 hours after the 82-80 barnburner win against Bunker Hill on Saturday. Bristol jumped out to a 13-5 lead through the first seven minutes of action.
A game that saw plenty of runs, Massasoit climbed back in and a jumper by Rael Handy (Easton) gave the Warriors their first lead of the game 20-19 with 7:35 left in the half.
Bristol rallied to retake the lead, before the Warriors closed out the first half on a 7-0 run, highlighted by an Edouard four-point play, as Massasoit led 35-31 at the break.
It appeared in the second half that the Warriors had run out of steam as the Bayhawks went on a 22-9 burst out of the gates, spearheaded by Bristol’s Corey Green, to own a 55-46 advantage with just under 14 minutes left to play.
Despite things looking grim for the No. 2 seed Warriors, head coach Jim Stapleton, in his 17th season with Massasoit and winningest coach in program history, stressed how the guys showed resiliency down the stretch.
“I think the seven guys that played a majority of the minutes, somehow, hung together,” Stapleton said. “Jared (Costa-Haywood) gave us a lot of contributions. Bobby (Belezos) was big for us. Midway through the second half we revamped offensively because we were becoming to stagnant.”
A timeout that led to a revamping of the offensive game plan saw the Warriors respond with a 9-0 run to even up the score at 55-all with 6:03 left.
“The other thing is we fell down by nine because we were missing shots,” Stapleton said. “We caught a few breaks, they missed a few shots and (Mark) Munroe made some big plays for us down low to get us back in the game.”
A helter-skelter final five minutes of action saw Bristol lead 64-61 until Edouard splashed a game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the key with 12.1 seconds left as the game went to overtime.
In the overtime period, which saw three Massasoit starters foul out, Belezos drained a pair of 3-pointers and Georges made 3-of-4 free throws as the Warriors led 75-72 with 22.4 seconds left. After a dunk by Bristol’s Joshua Winbush pulled the Bayhawks within one, Costa-Haywood was fouled with 10.8 seconds left. The sophomore calmly stepped to the line and sank both free throws and Bristol’s game-tying attempt was off the mark, giving the Warriors their first-ever trip to Nationals.
“The guys were pressure players today,” Stapleton said. “Rollsky with the big 3 to send it to overtime, Bobby’s big 3s in overtime, Mark Georges making 3-of-4 late free throws and Jared making the biggest two free throws of the season. All of that with three starters fouled out. We survived. So I guess now we get to go to New York.”
The NJCAA Division III Tournament, hosted by Sullivan County CC (Loch Sheldrake, NY), will take place from March 15-17.