Worcester State basektball player makes a jump shot on basketball court

Lancers fall to Catholic University NCAA Division III, earn MASCAC top honors

March 5, 2024
By: Paul Davey

Less than a week after their thrilling victory over Bridgewater State in the MASCAC finals, the Worcester State University men’s basketball team fell to Catholic University of America in a 75-72 overtime loss in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.

The team traveled to Washington, D.C. to face off against the Cardinals in their second straight appearance in the tournament. This followed another successful season for the Lancers, in which they earned the 1st seed in the MASCAC conference and took home their second straight championship title. Head Coach Tyler Hundley was voted the 2023-24 BSN Sports Coach of the Year by his peers. Junior Aaron Nkrumah earned his second straight MASCAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.

“Overall, I’m very proud of the team, especially late in the year,” said Hundley.

The Lancers opened the first half of the tournament on a hot start, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead with quick buckets from Nkrumah (Worcester, MA) and Brandon Goris (Bronx, NY). A deep three from senior Sam Dion (Barre, MA) extended the lead to 10-2. Catholic struggled shooting early in the game, and made only 1 of their first 10 field goal attempts. The size of Ryan Rubenskas (Bridgewater, MA) caused struggles for CUA, resulting in awkward shots and pressure under the basket that contributed to the Cardinals’ slow start. A hot streak from Dion saw Worcester State expand the first half lead to 19-4.

The onslaught from the Lancers continued throughout the opening period, and they held a commanding 30-9 lead with under 6 minutes to go in the half.

CUA’s cold shooting and foul troubles persisted until the last 5 minutes of the first half, when they went on a 12-0 scoring run that cut the Lancer lead to 9 points. Worcester State tried to maintain their momentum with a layup from Goris, but the Cardinals had finally found their rhythm, and their hot streak had reduced the lead to 5 points by the end of the first half.

“It was one of those things where halftime couldn’t come soon enough,” said Hundley. “I think that probably helped us stop the bleeding a little bit.” Jesse Haffmeister (Mendham, NJ) led the Cardinals in first half points with 14, while Nkrumah led the Lancers with 13.

The Cardinals continued their push for the lead at the beginning of the second half, while the Lancers struggled to find a spark on offense. Goris grabbed the only Worcester State bucket of the first 5 minutes with a layup. On the other side, Catholic’s Enzo Sechi (Houston, TX) scored 7 points early into the half, which propelled the Cardinals to their first lead of the game at 36-34. Catholic pushed their lead up to 12 points with 9 minutes left to play, but a pair of three-pointers from Zion Hendrix (Charlotte, NC) and Nkrumah cut the Lancer deficit to 6. The teams traded buckets over the next six minutes of play, and the Lancers slowly clawed their way back to tie the game once more at 62-62. A layup from Sechi gave the lead back to the Cardinals with under 3 minutes left in regulation.

Worcester State is no stranger to these games, having won the 2024 MASCAC championship against Bridgewater State off of last second shots in both regulation and overtime. A block by Nkrumah, which he followed with a rebound and bucket on the offensive end, tied the game at 64-64 with 26 seconds left on the clock. Nkrumah, who had the hot hand for the entire game, took the final shot of regulation, a three-pointer from near half court. For the second game in a row, the Lancers headed into overtime.

A midrange jumper from Nkrumah earned the Lancers the first points of the overtime period. Catholic’s Tommy Kelly (Frederick, MD) responded with a three-point bucket that gave the Cardinals the lead once more. Worcester State reclaimed the lead after a successful trip to the foul line from Goris, but Catholic responded with a burst of 5 points to take a 4 point advantage into the final 2 minutes of play. A made layup from Rubenskas was quickly answered with a fade away jumper from Haffmeister, then Nkrumah went 2-for-2 at the foul line to put the Lancers within one possession of the lead. Haffmeister, fouled by the Lancers in Catholic’s final possession of the game, made 1 of 2 free throws and secured a 3 point lead for the Cardinals. Worcester’s last attempt, a 3-pointer from Nkrumah, fell just shy of the bucket.

Nkrumah led all scorers with a game-high 32 points, accompanied by 12 rebounds to give him a double-double. For the Cardinals, Haffmeister and Sechi led the way with 21 points apiece.

With his last field goal of the night, Nkrumah crossed the 1,000 career points threshold. The two-time MASCAC player of the year became just the second player in program history to achieve that goal in two seasons. “To be able to do that in 2 years is pretty rare,” said Hundley. “He’s a special talent, and he’s got another year, so he can really climb the record books in terms of scoring.”

Top photo: Worcester State’s Aaron Nkrumah makes a jump shot during the championship game against Bridgewater. Photo by Worcester State Athletics


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