Tuesday night in Henniker, NH the Dean College Bulldogs (4-3) stepped into Bridges Gym to square off against the New England College Pilgrims (4-1). This was the first conference match up of the year for the men. It was also NEC’s first time ever hosting a New England Collegiate Conference game. The Pilgrims were looking to bounce back from a hard 97-68 loss to Middlebury College, who were ranked number 12 in the country before the game.
The Pilgrims got off to a slow start in the first half, as they allowed six unanswered points by Dean. A two-point jumper by senior guard Ricky Leonard ended the short run for the Bulldogs. Dean then came back and hit a three ball to go up 9-2, which was the most they led by the whole night.
When asked about the slow start, sophomore guard Calvin Cheek, said, “[We] just got to keep playing hard and smart, shots weren’t falling for us early and theirs were falling, so they gained some momentum. We just had to stay poised and keep our composure and make our run when the time came.”
The Pilgrims came alive when Cheek converted on a three-point play. Though Dean punched back and went up by five with a three ball and a lay up. The Grims also followed up with their own three ball and layup combo, when forward Joe Fama and guard Alonzo Cooper worked to tie the game up at 20 with 8:57 to go in the first half.
The Pilgrims went on a run started after Cooper scored his second bucket of the night. They were up 22-20 and then took control for the rest of the night, grabbing a 35-20 lead with 2:11 to go in the first half. They went on a 15-0 run led by Ricky Leonard, who scored 7 out of his 15 points during the run. Despite starting the game off hot the Bulldogs only scored five more points the rest of the first half. Cheek and guard Izaiah Winston-Brooks picked up the last seven points of the half for the Grims to carry a 17-point lead heading into halftime.
The Grims offense in the first half was led by Cheek and Leonard who combined for 19 points. Senior forward Jason Jones, who pulled down six boards in the half, noted that during the end of the first half, “I felt great, as a team we established a rhythm as the half progressed.”
In the second half the Grims picked up right where they left off, extending their lead by 21, with a three pointer from Winston-Brooks. Winston-Brooks went on to have a good second half for the Grims scoring 8 points of his 14 points, accompanied by 3 steals, 1 block, and 5 rebounds.
NEC went on a 7-0 run to go up my 27 points with 13:30 remaining in the game. 27 was the largest lead of the night for the Grims. The run was ended by a three ball from Dean but they were going to need more than offense to comeback and win the game. New England College dominated the second half to close out Dean 82-57.
Cheek, who finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals, said “it was very important to get off to a good start in conference play because we have intentions of hosting the whole tournament at our house and in order to do that we need to win as much as possible, and it was at home, got to protect the ship.”
Leonard finished with 19 points shooting an outstanding 7-9, hitting one three ball and going a perfect 4-4 at the charity stripe. Jones was another top performer for the Pilgrims in the win producing 10 points, 1 block, and grabbing 14 boards.
The victory gave the Pilgrims their first win in the new conference.