Judges finish strong again, advance to ECAC finals with 76-66 win over MCLA

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- For the second night in a row, the Brandeis men's basketball team closed the game on a big run, outscoring Mass. College of Liberal Arts, 13-3, over the final 4:22 to earn a 76-66 win in the semifinals of the ECAC Division III New England tournament. The Judges improve to 18-9 on the season and will meet host Eastern Connecticut State University Sunday at 1 p.m. for the title.

 The Judges were paced by a pair of stellar performances from rookies. Forward Youri Dascy (Fall River, Mass./St. Andrews (R.I.) School) and guard Ben Bartoldus (Hillsborough, N.H./Proctor Acad.) combined for 40 points - each scored 20 – and 64 percent shooting (16-25) on the night. Dascy, who just missed his third career double-double, also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. He shot 8-of-14 from the field overall and 4-of-4 from the line to reach 20 points for the third time this season and second in a row. Bartoldus was even hotter from the floor, going 8-of-11 overall and 4-of-5 from downtown to match his career-high in scoring.

A third rookie, Derek Retos (No. Attleboro, Mass./Brimmer and May School) added 10 points off the bench, as the Brandeis reserves outscored MCLA's, 27-18. Junior Vytas Kriskus (Kvedarna, Lithuania/Holderness (N.H.) School) also contributed off the bench with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Judge senior forward Christian Yemga (Yaounde, Cameroon/Proctor Acad.) and junior guard Tyrone Hughes (Dorchester, Mass./Taft School) tied for game-high honors with five assists each, both only two fewer than the entire MCLA squad. Hughes had a fine all-around game with six points, five rebounds, five assists and game-high four steals in 34 minutes of action. Brandeis shot 52.9% from the floor (27-51), their second-straight game over 50 percent, and connected on half of their 3-pointers (9-18). Brandeis rallied from a second-half deficit for the second time in the ECAC tournament after overcoming an 11-point margin in the quarterfinals.

Mass. College of Liberal Arts (17-10) put three different players in double figures, topped by Chris Harris's 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-3 from downtown. Jamal Brown came off the bench to supply 12 points and five offensive rebounds (six total). Tyriq Rochester added 11 points, but needed 3-of-12 shooting to get there, nailing 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. Harris and Brown were matched by Benny Cuprill for team-high honors with six rebounds, while Cuprill also had nine points and three assists. The Trailblazers owned the offensive glass, 17-7, but were only able to convert it into an 11-9 edge in second-chance points.

After the team's traded buckets on the game's first three possessions, giving MCLA an early 4-2 lead, Brandeis scored the game's next 11 points. Dascy tallied Brandeis's first six overall, followed by four in a row by Bartoldus and an Anthony Trapasso (Sterling, Mass./St Johns Prep) trifecta at the 15:47 mark that made it a 13-4 game. The Judges never trailed the rest of the half. The Trailblazers did get within one at 17-16 after Tyrell Mosley hit from deep midway through the stanza, but Brandeis scored the next seven  points to reclaim control. The Judges led by as many as 11 in the latter stages of the first before taking a 40-31 lead into the locker room. Dascy and Bartoldus were in command in the first half, with Dascy putting up 13 points and seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes, and Bartoldus notching 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting with two 3-pointers. Brown had eight and Cuprill seven for the  Trailblazers in the first.

Mass. College wasn't finished, however, as the Trailblazers' full-court pressure got them back in the game early in the second half. They scored the first 13 points, forcing a couple of turnovers and three missed shots. MCLA knotted the game at 40-40 just 2:02 into the second half on a Cuprill jumper off a Brandeis miscue, and Harris converted a traditional three-point play 52 seconds later that put the 'Blazers ahead for the first time since the game's early going at 43-40.

Bartoldus retied the game at 43-43 on the next possession by dialing long distance, but Harris responded in kind, kicking off an 8-2 run over the next 3:56 that gave Mass. College its largest lead of the game, 51-45, with 12:24 to go. The Judges answered with 11 of the game's next 15 points, reclaiming the lead on a steal and lay-up by Hughes at the 9:23 mark. The lead changed hands twice more, and the game was still tied, 63-63, with 5:58 to go after a Rochester fast-break jumper.

After four more empty possessions, Bartoldus finally hit the game-winning dagger, a 3-pointer with 4:32 left on a feed from Yemga. The Brandeis defense was stellar after that, allowing just three points on 0-for-9  shooting from the field the rest of the way. Thanks to a pair of Brown free throws at the 2:46 mark, the Trailblazers were within a field goal at 69-66, but Yemga found Dascy free for an easy lay-up a couple of possessions later, and the Judges hit 5-of-6 from the line down the stretch to earn the win.