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Wednesday May 22, 2024
HEARTBROKEN AGAIN: Bay Loses Regional Final

Click the thumbnails to see photos and videos, and to hear post-game comments from Coach Matt Jonson. Also click the AUDIO button to hear Dylan Plunger's player spotlight interview.

FLINT, Mich.---
It was the end of the line for the Bay College Norse men's basketball team on Sunday, as the Norse lost a heartbreaker to Hocking College (Ohio), 82-80, in the NJCAA Region 12 Championship game at Ballenger Fieldhouse in Flint.
The Norse battled all afternoon long in a game that saw neither team hold a lead larger than nine points. But in the end, the Norse finished just one step short of a trip to the national tournament in Danville, Ill., for the third time in the last four years.
But unlike those other gut-wrenching losses to Mott Community College (2023) and Rochester Technical and Community College (2021), this one hurts even more because the Norse were favored to win the game. And they were fresh off a huge win two nights before against Henry Ford, a perennial powerhouse from the Detroit area.
Bay College Coach Matt Johnson was dejected after Sunday's loss as he watched the Hocking players and coaches cut down the nets on the Mott court below.
“It just wasn't a very good effort,” Johnson said. “It was a lack of energy and effort. That's not who we are. We win games with our energy and our effort. And today, we lost a game with a lack of energy and effort. I think the kids played hard. But we just didn't play the way we need to play. We lost because we didn't bring it today. That's a mental toughness thing. We have guys who are way too good to NOT make plays down the stretch.”
It all came down to a frantic finish which saw Bay have a chance for a last-second win, only to see Kairee Gadson's contested triple hit the front of the rim and fall away, sealing the heartbreak for a team that was accustomed to pulling out games in various ways.
Bay had rallied from an 81-72 deficit in the final minute, helped out by Hocking missed free throws and a miss on an ill-advised lay-up attempt in the final seconds. A Baril Mawo lay-up with 11.8 seconds left cut Bay's deficit to 81-80. Hocking's Jaden Woods, who would be named the tournament MVP, split two free throws with 8.8 seconds left.
Trailing 82-80, it took the Norse five seconds to get the ball over half-court and set up a potential game-tying or winning basket with 3.3 seconds on the clock.
“I wish I would have had another time out, because I would have called it before we through the entry pass,” Johnson said. “But, I drew up one of our staples, to try to get the ball to Joe at the block. But they sandwiched somebody on the front side and back side, so our second look was there, but not great.”
'Baril caught it in kind of a tough spot, and our spacing was poor, and he took one dribble. Kairee really didn't have a chance. He put it on the rim and gave it a go, but it was not a clean look. But I didn't have another time out to burn to stop it and draw something else up. We didn't play well out of it once it broke down.”
And with that, the best season in Bay College basketball history was abruptly over.
“I stand by the fact that we are the better basketball team,” Johnson said. “But they played with better energy. Their body language was better than ours. They looked more confident than we did, and they played like it. They shot 57-percent in the second half, and we shot 33. We did a great job of attacking, but how many bunnies did we miss right around the rim? It's a two-point game. Every one of those matters.”
Hocking (23-6) was able to grab an early 9-1 lead that the Norse erased behind inspired play from Mawo and freshman Joe Ofori. Mawo had 16 points in the first half, including a running dunk as part of a run that saw Bay take leads of 16-15 and 18-17. Ofori had three baskets and made four free throws to keep it tight, and a Kairee Gadson triple kept Bay within 36-35 late in the first half.
Hocking, however, got a big first half from its big man, Dennis Asoro. He scored ten points, and Zion Reynolds nailed two triples and an “old-fashioned” three-point play to help the Hawks take a 43-40 lead at halftime.
The Norse trailed, 56-49, in the second half, before Ryan Sweeney had a pair of “and-one” baskets. Bay tied the game at 56, and a pair of Gadson free throws gave the Norse a 60-59 lead with ten minutes left on the clock.
The lead would not last long. Hocking responded with three straight baskets, the third of  which, by Anthony Millner, made it a 67-61 Hocking lead with 7:58 left. Bay closed to within two twice, on an Ofori basket with 5:17 left and a Sweeney basket-and-foul that brought the Norse to within 72-70 with 4:51 left on the clock.

But Bay's slow transition defense led to wide-open opportunities for the Hawks, and they cashed in. A triple from Woods capped a 9-0 run gave Hocking a 81-72 lead that they nearly squandered in that final minute. But Bay's 8-1 answer came up short.
“This is such a tough pill to swallow because it is such a great group of young men,” Johnson said. “They've done an awesome job representing Bay College all year long. They've put us on the national map. I'm just really disappointed. Not IN them, but I'm disappointed FOR them because this is the way it had to come to an end.”
Mawo led the Norse with 25 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor. He also made 8-of-11 from the foul line. Gadson added 20 points and ten rebounds for a double-double of his own, but he was just 5-of-21 shooting from the floor.

Ofori also had a double-double, with 18 points and ten rebounds. It's not too often that a team gets three players with double-doubles, and still loses. But Bay did on Sunday.
For their efforts, Mawo and Ofori were both named to the All-Tournament Team.
Woods led Hocking with 20 points and seven rebounds.  Reyonds had 13 points off the bench, and Osoro had 12 before fouling out. The Hocking bench outscored the Bay bench, 40-1, as the Norse got no offensive production from the reserves.
Bay finishes its season with a 27-5 record, the best in school history, with all five losses coming in single digits. But the fact that three of those losses came in the past four games makes it nearly impossible for Bay to receive an at-large bid to the national tournament. That will be officially announced at 2:00 Tuesday afternoon.
“Today was a must-win and we didn't do enough things right to win,” Johnson said. “I'll be watching the (selection) show on Tuesday just to see, but losing three out of four down the stretch doesn't help. So, I doubt it.”
Johnson said his team had a great year, despite Sunday's sour ending.
“This one is going to sting for a long, long while. I'm proud of this group. We just have to get a little bit better, and a little bit tougher. We've got to get down here and not watch somebody else cut down the nets on Sunday. This is two years in a row that we get the runner-up plaque and I think our kids deserve more. We'll do our best to make it happen next year.”

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