SALEM, Mass. (courtesy Salem State sports information) - Nate Simpson (Lowell, MA) scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Salem State to a 65-57 win over Brandeis in the opening round of the New England Big Four Challenge. Simpson scored 15 of his points in the second half to propel the Vikings into the championship game. Brandeis head coach and former Salem State mentor Brian Meehan was denied his 300th career win.
The Vikings took an early lead, 19-10 on the strength of two three-pointers by Justin Nieves (Lawrence, Mass.) and three hoops by Brian Clark (Deerfield, Mass.). The Judges rallied, and behind the hot shooting of sophomores Derek Retos (North Attleboro, Mass./Brimmer and May School) and Ben Bartoldus (Hillsborough, N.H./Proctor Acad.), who combined for all of the points in a 17-7 run, Brandeis took a brief 27-26 lead. Ryan Salvadore (Lynn, Mass.) scored right before the half, and SSU took a 28-27 lead into the locker room.
Simpson sparked an early second half run, scoring nine of the Vikings first 13 points after intermission. A Clark jumper with 13:30 remaining gave SSU its largest lead of the game, 46-36.
The Judges began to chip away at the deficit, and drew to within two, 53-51 with 5:20 left. Simpson hit his only three-pointer of the game to expand the lead to five, 58-53, but Bartoldus hit a runner to bring Brandeis to within three, 60-57 with two minutes remaining. However, the Judges could not get any closer, as Simpson and Apollos Wade (Taunton, Mass.) connected on 5-of-6 free throws from the line in the final minute.
Clark joined Simpson in double figures for Salem State, finishing with 14 points, while Wade had six assists. Bartoldus (17), Retos (16) and Youri Dascy (Fall River, Mass./St. Andrews, R.I., School, 14 points) accounted for 47 of the Judges' 57 points. Dascy also had 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
Tufts defeated Babson 54-48 in the earlier game.
Salem State (6-1) advances to the championship game where it will take on Tufts at 3 p.m. Brandeis (2-5) will play Babson in the consolation game at 1 p.m. The loss is the first for Brandeis in five Big Four Challenge games.