On Wednesday, February 19th, 2020, the New England College Men’s Basketball team faced Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) in Bridges Gym. With NEC holding first place in the conference and ENC close behind in second place, the game was crucial for both teams. The outcome affected each of their rankings in the conference, as well as in the NECC tournament.
The rivalry between NEC and ENC was not only present among the players, but the high level of energy and support from the fans was apparent every second of the game. Whether or not the referees made a solid or questionable call, each fan cheered or booed in the favor of their own teams. Furthermore, a local police officer and college campus safety officers were present at the game as a precaution, to keep the players and fans safe during all of this excitement.
While there was a high level of competition between these two teams, Izaiah Winston-Brooks, a senior who scored a game-high of 26 points, expressed how throughout their conference schedule, Eastern Nazarene College alongside Mitchell College were their biggest competitors. Furthermore, Head Coach Charlie Mason added, “Eastern Nazarene College is one of the best teams in our conference. We lost to ENC earlier this season at their place. They are a senior-oriented team and they are also very well-coached. Therefore, ENC is a team who we have great respect for.”
At the end of the first half, NEC took the lead at 38 to 35. For the majority of the game, there was only a three to five-point difference in score between these two teams. This neck-to-neck score led to an increased amount of anticipation among everyone in the gym. By the end of the second half, NEC pulled ahead with a lead of 89 to 78, to secure their number one seed in the NECC tournament, as well as give NEC home-court advantage throughout the tournament.
Winston-Brooks expressed that having a home-court advantage during their playoff games will be a huge benefit. He explained that the support that their fans bring into the gym through their energy and intensity helps motivate and encourage the players throughout the game. Coach Mason agreed with Winston-Brooks and stated, “Bridges Gym is by definition a home-court advantage. The environment of Bridges Gym is like no other at our level and our fans are truly ENGAGED.”
Winston-Brooks commented on the key elements of their success all season has been strong defense and rebounding. While these elements were a main focus for the team this season, Coach Mason expressed that the team’s overall depth and high pace that the players set is their biggest strength.
Coach Mason expressed that even though NEC has secured the #1 seed in the NECC tournament, they must not take anything for granted. He further reflected on last year and stated, “last year, we entered the NECC tournament as the #1 seed and we lost in the semifinals, at home, in overtime, on a half court shot, as time ran out. As a result, the only opponent that matters to us is the next team on the schedule.”
Since NEC secured the #1 seed in the NECC Men’s Basketball Tournament with Wednesday night’s win versus ENC, NEC will host a semifinal game on Thursday, February 27th. If NEC takes the win on that Thursday, they will be hosting the conference championship game on Saturday, February 29th.