NORTH ADAMS - The MCLA men's basketball team opened its season up at home on Monday night, but it was anything but a grand opening.
Nichols College turned Trailblazer turnovers into points and eventually a 19-point lead en route to a 94-83 win, sending MCLA to 0-1 on the season.
"There was a five-minute stretch where we played bad and I think we gave up 20 points, and that's when they went up double digits" coach Jamie Morrison said. "From there it was uphill the rest of the game."
MCLA turned the ball over 14 times in the first half, and Nichols used six of those to score 13 points.
The Bison took over the first half about 4 and a half minutes into the game, when they pushed a four-point lead (6-2) out to 16 (22-6) in just 3:33. Nichols' Ryan Sheehan made three 3-pointers to fuel the burst. He finished with a game-high 40 points without hitting another 3.
"He's a very good shooter," junior forward John Jones said. "He scored 40 against us. Very good."
To complicate things even more, the Trailblazers weren't driving to the basket. They were content passing around the outside, hoping for an open shot rather than creating. It wasn't working, and it took MCLA until the 11:25 mark to reach double digits. It did so on a John Jones layup.
The Trailblazers finished the first half just 7 of 29 from the field and 3 of 15 from 3-point land.
"It comes down to being aggressive, again," senior forward Vernon Cross said. "Our guards need to get to the basket, as opposed to just passing it around. You need to be aggressive, kick it and then the open shots will be there."
Morrison said prior to the season that the team needs to be better from the foul line. It was ranked 401st of 405 Division III teams last season in free-throw shooting percentage at just 59.6 percent. It started off even worse in the first half, as the Trailblazers made just half (8 of 16) of their attempts from the line.
All that changed in the second half, though, and MCLA closed a 16-point half-time lead to just four with 11:33 to play. Freshman guard Paul Maurice and sophomore guard Ruben DelRosario drained back-to-back 3-pointers to cap the rally.
That was the easy part. The hard part was overtaking the lead, which proved to be too hard. Nichols bumped the lead back into double digits. MCLA drew to within six, but couldn't keep the deficit below 10. The only time MCLA enjoyed the lead was when it scored the game's first basket 18 seconds in.
"We just couldn't consistently put the ball in the basket to give us a chance until late in the second half," Morrison said. "But then that took a lot of energy out of us to make that run. It was tough."