Bilal Shabazz and the MCLA men are rolling.
Bilal Shabazz and the MCLA men are rolling. (New England Newspapers file)

NORTH ADAMS -- In sports, when you hit bottom, two things can happen: You can stay there, or you can fight back.

The members of the men's basketball team at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts have chosen the latter -- and have been more than successful at it.

The Trailblazers are currently 11-11, and 7-2 in MASCAC, and have three more regular-season games to play.

"It's not how we start," coach Jamie Morrison said, "it's how we finish. We haven't finished well the last couple of years."

The Traiblazers had a tough overtime loss at home to Westfield State on Tuesday night. It's a loss the players and the coaches probably won't want to dwell very long on.

"You've got to have a short memory," said MCLA guard Bilal Shabazz.

That short memory was truly tested on the night of Jan. 3. The Trailblazers were 3-6 at the holiday break, dropped two games at a tournament on Staten Island, and then traveled to Sage College. To say the bottom fell out of the bag would be an understatement.

The Trailblazers were blown out by Sage 82-59, a team they beat a year ago.

"It was quiet, I can tell you that," Shabazz said of the ride home. "It was probably as low as we've been all season."

While Morrison and his staff preach short memories and the proverbial one game at a time, the Trailblazers had to rebound in five days because perennial MASCAC power Salem State was coming to the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium.

"It wasn't a lot of fun," Morrison said.


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"They weren't happy being around the coaches. The coaches weren't thrilled being around the
players."

The loss capped off what had to be a fairly brutal way to start a basketball season.

Morrison had given his team a tough non-league schedule that included road games at Williams, RPI, Brandeis and Keene State, a tough home game against Wesleyan, and of the 11 games between Nov. 19 and Dec. 30, only four of them were home games.

The coach, now in his sixth year, said that playing such a tough schedule would make his team mentally tougher than if it set a bunch of games against Tomato Can U. But losing a lot can also damage a team's
psyche.

And the team's psyche was damaged after the loss to Sage.

"We all looked in the mirror," said MCLA forward Vernon Cross. "We had a team meeting. We shouldn't be losing to Sage. We have to fix this.

"We had to get through it together because we're
brothers."

Morrison said that in the days leading up to Salem, the Trailblazers were loose in practice. The team, the coach said, had been practicing well but that didn't necessarily translate to good play on the court.

"When conference [play] started, we were basically 0-0 again," said Shabazz. "I think it just gave us new breath and new life. We got the big win against Salem and kept it rolling from there."

The Trailblazers have only one double-figure scorer, junior John Jones. Jones, who played junior college basketball after graduating from Worcester South, averages 14.7 points per game.

"I really like the group. I saw a lot of potential that every player had," Jones said. "I thought we were a good team and could do big things."

The second bump in the road for the Trailblazers came on Jan. 23, when they lost 89-80 at Bridgewater State.

In other seasons, a loss like that might have derailed the Trailblazers. That didn't happen this year, as MCLA won three straight before the overtime loss to Westfield.

"In the beginning of the year, we didn't have [short-term memory]," said Cross. "It's one of the toughest things to learn. It's one game and you have to get on to the next game."

The Trailblazers are looking to earn one of the top two seeds in the MASCAC Tournament. If that happens, Morrison said that could be a step on the road to either the NCAA or the ECAC Division III tournament.

"If we take care of what we should take care of, definitely," Morrison said. "I think we're a dangerous team if we get that going."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman