NORTH ADAMS -- Paul Maurice has been a quiet, steady oustide-shooting presence all season. It earned him MASCAC Rookie of the Year. Fellow first-year John Jones, who was voted a First Team All-Conference selection, has been the opposite. He's emotional, streaky and works best off the dribble.
They teamed up Thursday night to power the MCLA men's basketball team into the MASCAC championship with a 77-59 win over visiting Salem State. The Trailblazers will host Fitchburg on Saturday at 1 p.m.
"It feels real good to know that we're hosting a [championship] game. I'm really excited for my team," Jones said. "I'm glad coming in my first year and getting us here. It's just been a really good year for us."
Jones' show came first. The Trailblazer offense was struggling mightily. Maurice's 3-pointer was the lone basket for MCLA more than 4 minutes in. The Trailblazers were down nine and needed a boost.
That's where Jones (game-high 23 points) came in. He drew a foul on the backside of a time out, made both free throws and then didn't miss his next six shots. He scored 13 straight points -- highlighted by a dunk -- and kept his team in the game. When he made a fade-away jumper, it brought MCLA within four.
"I see my teammates struggling, and so I just wanted to lift them up and let them know we're all here," he said. "We're here together, so let's work together as a team because the time's right here right now. So let's go
Without his stretch, MCLA may have fallen behind too far to come back.
"He kept us in it. We were clearly nervous," coach Jamie Morrison said. "We were just flat-footed, we just weren't thinking. JJ kept us in it until we kind of got our sea legs. Once we did, we were good."
And they were. Three other players scored the next 12 points, but it was when Anthony Barbosa factored into the scoring that MCLA was finally back in the game.
MCLA had been clawing it's way back, but couldn't stay within a possession. Then Barbosa knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner and drew the foul. He converted it for a four-point play. The play erased a four-point Salem lead and tied the game at 32 with 2:58 left in the first half.
The basket kept the Trailblazers on the Vikings' heels until taking the lead for good early the second half.
"All year in practice, I've been offensive player. It's funny, during the games I play defense," he said. "My role is just defense. I like to shoot the ball, it's just confidence.
"I knew right when [Vernon Cross] was driving, I'm like ‘He's kicking it out and it's going up.' It went in and it was big."
It's been the MCLA story all year. When the big guns aren't producing, someone off the bench steps up. The basket from the team's 10th man gave the Trailblazers the boost they needed.
"We got good guys coming off the bench, and he played a good game, made a big shot for us," Jones said. "That four-point play was very incredible. It kind of lifted us up, got the momentum going and we fed off that."
It set the stage for the freshman. He's best known for his outside shooting, but to give MCLA its first lead, he broke character. He crashed the offensive glass, grabbed the rebound and put it up and in for a 36-34 advantage. The lead didn't hold, and he needed to return to form in the second half.
He drilled a trey from about four feet beyond the arc to tie the game at 42 with 18:34 left. Jones grabbed a Maurice miss two possessions later and put it in for a 44-42 lead.
Then two minutes passed and no one made a basket. Maurice stepped up and drilled another 3-pointer, this one from the left corner to give MCLA a five-point lead.
"It was nothing amazing," he said. "I was just staying confident on my shot. Coach told me if I miss 100 to keep shooting."
Maurice's final 3 spurred a 13-1 MCLA run in the middle of the second half to give the Trailblazers the commanding edge. They stretched the lead to as many as 21 to secure their spot in the title game.