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Wednesday May 22, 2024
ALL-OUT WAR: Norse Fall To #5 Macomb, 94-85

Click the thumbnails to see photos and videos, and to hear post-game comments from Ryan Sweeney and Coach Matt Johnson. Also click the AUDIO button to hear Baril Mawo's halftime interview. Also click to see photos and videos from Macomb's semifinal win from Friday over Kalamazoo Valley.

ESCANABA---
The 13th-ranked Bay College Norse men's basketball team battled hard on Saturday against the fifth-ranked team in the country as the MCCAA State Championship Game was played inside a jam-packed Bay College Gym.

In the end, the Macomb Community College Monarchs fought off every Norse challenge and made the long trip back to suburban Detroit with a 94-85 victory.

 

“I thought our kids played their butts off,” Bay College Coach Matt Johnson said. “I'm proud of them. This is one of the best teams in the country. They lost in the national championship game last year. This is a really special group that Macomb has, and we proved that we can play with anybody."

"We belong. We absolutely belong. Our kids should be really, really proud of their effort today. We just didn't make enough plays when we needed to, but we played our butts off.”

 

“We watched them play yesterday and we knew they were a run-and-gun type of team,” said Norse freshman Ryan Sweeney, who scored a game-high 28 points. “We had to attack them and keep them on their heels. There was a lot of hard work that went into that. I played good. Obviously, you want to win. But our team competed. The guys on my team right here were playing really, really hard. You can't ask for anything more.”

 

Except that the Monarchs, coming off a dominating 137-111 win over Kalamazoo Valley in Friday's semifinal, played a near-perfect game on Saturday against the Norse. They shot 55-percent from the floor, and had 23 assists compared to just eight turnovers. The Monarchs made eight of the 23 three-point baskets they attempted, while Bay could manage just one three-point basket in ten attempts.

 

Still, buoyed by a sellout crowd that included the Escanaba High School pep band and drumline, the Norse hung in there all game long.

 

“Watching these guys (Macomb) yesterday, I didn't think anybody could beat them,” Sweeney said. “Obviously, we competed with them pretty good. This is one of the best teams I've ever played against in my life, and I've seen some really, really good teams. You want to play guys who are really good. We all came together and showed that we can compete. This game will help us in the long run.”

 

The game was tied at 28-28 in the first half after Joe Ofiri scored inside the paint, and after a Macomb run, the Norse closed to within 42-37 on Kairee Gadson's third basket of the half. But the Monarchs, behind the hot shooting of Juwan Maxey (18 first half points) and strong play off the bench from big man Tate McKenzie (seven points), led, 55-46, at halftime.

 

In the second half, the Norse battled back every time the Monarchs made a push. Sweeney was in the middle of it, putting on a dominating second half of cutting to the basket, finishing with a game-high 28 points. Ofori was tough inside, scoring nine of his 15 points in the second half, and Genesis Kemp scored 13 of his 21 points during the second half comeback attempts.

 

It was punch, counter-punch down the stretch, as Macomb (26-3 overall) fought off every Bay challenge. Ofori scored inside to bring Bay to within 68-66 with 9:45 left to play, and the Norse had the ball but could not get that tying basket. Maxey came back with a basket to give his team a four-point lead. Later, Kemp attacked the basket for a lay-up that brought Bay to within 72-70, but nobody got back on defense and Tymias Williams went the other way for a slam dunk to make it 74-70.

 

From there, the Monarchs scored on six straight possessions, capped by a Nate Brown “and-one” basket that gave the visitors a 84-73 lead. That lead grew to 16 points before the Norse made one last push, getting to within eight points in the final minute before losing by nine.

 

Maxey led the Monarchs with 24 points, although he was limited to five points in the second half. Williams had a double-double of 16 points and ten rebounds, and Parker Day chipped in 15 points.

 

Sweeney's 28 points led the Norse. He was 10-of-17 from the floor, made eight of ten foul shots, had six assists, and grabbed six rebounds while playing 37 of the game's 40 minutes.

 

Kemp was dominating at times in the second half with his dribble penetration. He had a double-double of 21 points and ten rebounds, and he made all eleven of his free throw attempts. Ofori had 15 points and Gadson added 13 points on five-of-nine shooting from the floor.

 

The Norse outrebounded the Monarchs, 36-30, and made 24-of-28 shots from the free throw line (85.7%). But all of that still wasn't enough to spring the upset, and the Monarchs cut down the nets on the Bay College court, and the Norse would be state runners-up for a second straight year.

“We were locked in and focused,” Johnson said. “We just needed to finish a couple more plays. I think, hopefully, this lights the fire. We proved today, and now I hope, that we all believe, and if we go down to Flint (for regionals) believing, it could be special.”

 

Johnson also tipped his hat to the standing-room-only crowd that packed the Bay College Gym, the largest crowd since that first-ever Norse game back in 2017.

 

“What a community we are lucky enough to live in,” Johnson said. “It really is incredible. Between the kids from the local high schools stepping up, obviously the Escanaba pep band was incredible. Literally every team that comes into Escanaba says 'we don't ever play in an environment like this'. It's an awesome experience for our student athletes. It was loud. It was energetic. It's exactly what playoff basketball is supposed to be. Our community rallied around us. No words can thank them enough. We are the U.P.'s JUCO team.”

 

The Norse (26-4 overall) will be the top seed in the NJCAA Region 12-A tournament next weekend at Mott Community College in Flint. Bay will play the winner of Tuesday's Henry Ford-Mott game in the semifinals Friday afternoon at 1:00.

 

If the Norse win that game, and also win the regional final on Sunday, they would make the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time in school history.

 

There is also an outside shot at an at-large bid for the tournament, although back-to-back losses this week to Mid Michigan and Macomb make that a long shot.

 

“The loss to Mid Michigan, I think, hurts a little bit more because that we didn't get this one,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, I think we're one of the top 20 teams in the country, and if the top 20 teams go (to the national tournament), then I think we absolutely deserve to be there. Hopefully, we take care of business in Flint, and we don't put it up to some committee to have to decide. We just have to win two basketball games in Flint next weekend."
 









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