BABSON PARK, Mass. (courtesy Babson sports information)—Senior Nicholas Grassa (Lynn, Mass.) led all scorers with 23 points, and classmate Brian Ortiz had 19 as Salem State University defeated Brandeis, 81-73, in the opening round of the New England Big 4 Challenge on Saturday afternoon at Staake Gymnasium.
With the victory, Salem State (4-2) advances to Sunday's Big 4 Challenge title game for the fourth consecutive season, while Brandeis drops to 1-5 overall.
Grassa went 6-for-8 from beyond the arc and also dished out a game-high six assists, while fellow senior Hamed Akanni (Fitchburg, Mass.) added 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with seven rebounds off the bench for the Vikings.
After a back-and-forth opening nine minutes Salem State used a 22-11 spurt to build a 10-point lead with 3:01 to play. The Vikings, which shot 55.2 percent in the stanza, got six points from Akanni during the run and nine from Ortiz, who made it 36-26 with his third three-pointer of the half.
Sophomore Robinson Vilmont (Cambridge, Mass./Wilbraham and Monson) led the Judges with 15 points and four rebounds. Classmate John Powell (Ashland, Mass./Brimmer and May) went 7-of-9 at the free throw line and finished with 11 points while fellow sophomore Samuel Dowden (Andover, Mass./Andover) added 10 points. First-year KJ Baptiste (Onset, Mass./Brimmer and May) scored seven points and pulled down a game-high eight boards in the loss.
Despite making just three field goals over the final eight minutes of the period Brandeis went 12-of-15 at the free throw line to stay within striking distance. Vilmont broke a field goal drought of nearly six minutes with a trey, and then followed a layup by Baptiste with a bucket of his own to pull the Judges within 38-35 at the break.
The Vikings took their biggest lead of the game on a three-pointer by Grassa at 54-41 with 14:50 to play, but Brandeis pulled within five at 64-59 on a free throw by Baptiste with5:31 remaining. Grassa and senior Jon Perez (Weymouth, Mass.) drilled back-to-back treys, and Akanni followed with a jumper two possessions later to give Salem State a 72-60 edge with 3:09 to go.
The Vikings scored their final seven points from the line to secure the win.
Salem State shot 55.6 percent for the game (30-of-54) and finished a blistering 59.1 percent (13-of-22) from three-point range. The Vikings also scored 23 points off 15 Brandeis turnovers.
The Judges shot 47.1 percent (24-of-51) from the floor and went 22-of-32 at the free throw line. They also held a 38-26 edge on the glass.
Brandeis will meet Tufts, who fell to host Babson, 68-63, in tomorrow's consolation game.