NORTH ADAMS -- The last time the Fitchburg State men's basketball team showed up at the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium, the Falcons spoiled MCLA's hope of winning a MASCAC tournament title.
"Every time I look at the [standings] of our league, I look at them. It's just painful how we lost to them," MCLA forward John Jones said before Tuesday's conference game.
The Falcons supplied a little more pain to the Trailblazers, as they came into town and got out with a 77-75 victory in the nightcap of a MASCAC doubleheader. It was Fitchburg's first win in 12 regular-season games.
Jeremic Bennett, scored the last two of his team-high 22 points on a drive to the basket with 48.5 seconds left, giving the Trailblazers a 75-74 lead. Three times in the last 20 seconds, MCLA had chances to win the game or send it into overtime, but turned the ball over twice and Bennett's desperation 3-point shot at the buzzer was short.
"We missed free throws, we missed a couple of layups and we'd get a steal and not convert," MCLA coach Jamie Morrison said. "In the last minute, we tried to do too much. We tried to do it individually. You're just not going to win that way."
MCLA (3-11, 1-2 in MASCAC) led by as many as 10 points early in the first half, but Fitchburg came back to tie the game 43-43 at halftime. There were three ties and four lead changes in the second half as neither team could pull away. The Falcons (1-11, 1-2) finally took the lead for keeps when Malcolm Dixon made a pair of free throws with 23.2 seconds left in the game.
Fitchburg's first-year coach Titus Manderson couldn't stop smiling after the win. He was especially happy because he almost didn't get to see the Falcons get that victory.
"I took a wrong turn in Boston and I lost about an hour and 15 minutes on my ride," he said. "Unbelievable."
It was about as even of a basketball game as one can see. Both teams made 28 hoops, MCLA had seven 3-point baskets to six for Fitchburg while the Falcons were 15 of 25 from the foul line compared to 12 of 24 for the Trailblazers.
"They played good basketball. That's what I'm very, very proud of," Manderson said. "They moved the ball. They played as a team."
That was, in Morrison's opinion, the opposite of what the Trailblazers did. It was something the seventh-year coach found particularly frustrating.
"We're just selfish. We're selfish basketball players and we're a selfish basketball team," said Morrision. "That starts with me. Obviously I'm not doing a good job of getting them to buy into the team game."
With the score tied at halftime, the Falcons jumped out to a 56-50 lead with 15 1/2 minutes left. The Trailblazers forced Manderson to take a time out after a 7-0 run put the home side up 57-56. From there it was back-and-forth basketball.
Trailing 76-75, the Trailblazers had a chance to take the lead but Bennett was called for charging on a drive to the basket. The foul waved off the hoop. Fitchburg's Mike Ingram-Rubin made the second of two free throws with 13.5 seconds left, for a 77-75 lead.
Anthony Muccioli had an opportunity to ice the victory, but missed two free throws with 7.2 seconds left. Ramon Viches got the rebound but Bennett's off-balance 3-point shot missed its target as the horn sounded.
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