NORTH ADAMS -- It wasn't pretty, but the job got done.
Kenny Suggs and Paul Maurice led the second-half comeback for MCLA and Bilal Shabazz finished it off, as the men's basketball team won its final conference game of the season, 67-64 over Bridgewater State on Saturday afternoon.
"It's always tough on Senior Day," coach Jamie Morrison said. "It was not artistically beautiful, but few of our wins are."
It took extra focus from a senior for MCLA to pull out the win. Bilal Shabazz had just nine points late in the game, but made his team's final eight, including four free throws in the final 31 seconds to keep it a two-possession game.
The senior from Schenectedy, N.Y. was shooting just 65.2 percent from the line on the season because of a rough patch in the middle of the conference schedule. He looked smooth on the last four, and finished the game 9 of 11 from the line.
"I just made it a priority to try to make every free throw," Shabazz said of his mindset since the rough patch. "My team's counting on me, so when I go to the line, I got to have extra focus and I'll knock them down."
Classmate Richard Johnson didn't have the Senior Day he had planned. He was whistled for his fourth personal foul with 16:21 left and was given a technical when he threw his protective glasses in disgust.
MCLA had the answer with Suggs.
The junior, who was no tasked with dominating the glass and solidifying the interior, grabbed two offensive rebounds and scored nine straight points in a 3:07 span in the middle of the second half. He took MCLA from a three-point deficit to a four-point lead.
His best basket came off a power spin to the basket on the baseline, something uncharacteristic for the 6-foot-6 center.
"That was something that came out of my bag of tricks. I was surprised myself," he said with a laugh. "I was hoping the ref wasn't going to call a travel.
"When I go in there, I don't look to score. My main thing is grab whatever I can off the boards, score that way."
He did exactly that with the two offensive rebounds in that sequence. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench. More importantly, he gave MCLA a lead it never gave up.
"I wanted to go out there and play for [Johnson]," he said. "I know it's his last home senior game. So I wanted to go out there and do my best. Only thing on my mind was winning."
Not to be overlooked was the clutch shooting of freshman guard Paul Maurice. The sharp-shooter from Boston drained a 3-pointer just before Suggs took over. Maurice's trey capped a stretch where he made seven of his team's 13 points, and brought the MCLA deficit to just three.
"He's been playing big all season. He's a freshman but he does not play like it,' Shabazz said. "He's a competitor. That's one thing I can say about him. He's going to compete until the final buzzer, and he knocks down big shots for us. Hopefully, he continue to do so."
MCLA had already locked up the No. 2 seed before taking the court, but still had a chance at the top seed. It needed to win and Westfield to lose. The Owls won by 14 over Fitchburg. MCLA will host the winner of Tuesday's Salem/
Worcester game. Game time has yet to be determined.
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