By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- The start of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference season has arrived for the Bridgewater State University basketball teams.
After playing only non-conference games since the middle of November, the Bears men’s and women’s team kick off their MASCAC schedules with a Saturday afternoon doubleheader against the Massachusetts College of Liberal at the Tinsley Center.
The BSU men, who play the Trailblazers at 3 p.m., are off to a 3-9 start while the women, who have a 1 p.m. game against MCLA, are 4-9.
The men’s team dropped its first six games before putting together back-to-back wins over Dean College and Wheaton College. The Bears then lost three straight before winning the consolation round of the Naismith Classic against Colby-Sawyer last Saturday.
BSU went 9-18 a year ago, including 6-6 in the conference. The Bears are trying to avoid having consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2001-02 and 2002-03.
With three players averaging in double figures, BSU is scoring 77.3 points per game, but it is struggling at the defensive end, allowing 83.4 in the 12 games.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” said coach Joe Farroba, whose team is 3-3 since Dec. 5. “I think that’s our biggest thing, our defense. We’re really not stopping people. That’s it. We can score. We’ve shown we can score.
“Offensive does not seem to be a problem. Defensive should be really easy. It’s about attitude and effort. That’s all it is.”
Ryan Carney of Easton leads the way, averaging 21.7 points on 47 percent shooting, 40 percent from 3-point range, to go with 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Rayshon Ward is scoring 17.4 points to go with 9.8 rebounds and Dimitri St. Louis of Brockton, who made the all-tournament team at the Naismith Classic in Springfield, is averaging 16.8 points and 9.6 rebounds.
“Dimitri has really had some great games for us,” said Farroba.
Jose Monteiro Jr. of Brockton is contributing 9.6 points as the starting point guard.
The Bears opened the season with an 85-81 loss to Middlebury College, which is currently 12-0 and ranked third in the national Division 3 poll.
“We’ve had moments where we’re pretty good,” said Farroba. “Like I tell the guys, one of the things is we’ve been consistently inconsistent. It’s been frustrating.”
BSU is picked to finish third in the MASCAC behind Salem State and Westfield State in the coaches preseason poll.
Farroba is hoping the challenging non-conference schedule has helped the Bears prepare for the MASCAC.
“I think the conference can be very competitive,” he said. “Two teams that have kind of separated themselves are Westfield State and Fitchburg State. They seem to be the lead dogs.
“Mass. College (7-4) is having a good year. It’s going to be a challenging game in the opener, and I’m just happy we’re home.”
The BSU women started out 2-4, then dropped five straight games before winning the last two non-conference matchups against Clark and Johnson & Wales to begin January.
Destiny Fitzgerald has been the Bears’ leading player, averaging 12.1 points and 7.2 rebounds. Sisters Olivia Dziadyk (9.8 points, 4.2 rebounds) and Hannah Dziadyk (9.5 points), and Coyle Cassidy graduate Nicole Bostick (7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds) are also contributing.
Freshman Kylee Piché, a Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High graduate, is next at 8.5 points. Piché was selected the MASCAC rookie of the week after averaging 15 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in three games.
Piché had 21 point in a loss to Hamilton College and 17 points against Nazareth College at the Music City Classic, then scored seven points against Clark.
Two of the Bears’ losses came at home against nationally ranked teams, Tufts and Bowdoin.
Tufts is off to an 8-0 start and is ranked No. 1 in the nation while Bowdoin is 9-0 and ranked No. 3. The Bears lost to Tufts, 80-31, and to Bowdoin, 85-73.
BSU is picked to finish fourth in the MASCAC behind Framingham State, Westfield State and Worcester State.
The Bears made it to the semifinal round of the conference tourney last winter after going 8-4 in the MASCAC and were 14-13 overall.