FITCHBURG, Mass. – The No. 5 seeded Worcester State University men's basketball team upset the No. 1 seeded Fitchburg State University Falcons Thursday evening in a 71-68 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) semifinal game at the Parkinson Gymnasium.
In a game that saw eight ties and 10 lead changes, the Lancers came back from a 14-point deficit with 11:43 to go in the second half. At that time, Worcester State went on an 11-3 run, including triples from seniors Aaron Anniballi (Milford, Mass.) and Ryan DiBernardo (Springfield, Mass.) to trim the Falcons' lead to just four. Fitchburg State battled back, however, Worcester closed the game out with a 12-0 run to seal the semifinal victory.
Worcester State's senior class was a huge contributor in the win. Senior center Paul Brooks (Arlington, Mass.) led the Blue and Gold both offensively and defensively, registering a double-double of 19 points and 18 rebounds with seven blocks and three assists. Classmate DiBernardo recorded 17 points on 5-for-6 (4-for-7 from three point range) and five assists, while Jeremy Bacon (Milford, Mass.) picked up a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds. Anniballi chipped in eight points while junior Corey Gatta (Sturbridge, Mass.) added seven and five assists.
"Paul led the team in scoring and on the boards, while Ryan made some huge three's," commented head coach David Lindberg. "Jeremy also played great defense on Fitchburg's top scorer tonight."
Fitchburg State was led by Jaleel Bell (Dorchester, Mass.) who totaled 22 points, six rebounds, and five steals. Nicholas Tracy (Indianapolis, Ind.) scored 13 points, while Joshua Bosworth (Springfield, Mass.) tallied 10. Leonny Burgos (Lawrence, Mass.) scored eight and led the team with nine assists, five rebounds and four steals. Jalen Williams (Meriden, Conn.) captured a team-high nine rebounds in the loss.
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). 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 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 (Maynard, Mass.) 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 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%).
"The team battled hard for the win tonight," said Lindberg. "Our seniors just aren't ready to go home yet."
Fitchburg State concludes its 2016-17 campaign with an over record of 15-11 and a 10-2 clip in conference play, while the No. 5 seeded Lancers of Worcester State University (10-17, 6-6 MASCAC) will take on the No. 2 seeded Salem State in the MASCAC championship game on Saturday February 25th with tip-off coming at 1:00 PM.
Portions of this Release Courtesy of Fitchburg State Sports Information