Judges fall to Salem State, 81-73, in Big Four opener

Robinson Vilmont '17 (Photo by Sportspix/Mike Broglio)
Robinson Vilmont '17 (Photo by Sportspix/Mike Broglio)

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.