March 6, 2022 – Waltham, Massachusetts
Bentley vs Franklin Pierce
Northeast-10 Championship Game
I don’t feel time passing. I don’t think any of us actually do. I know time’s gone by when I can triangulate myself with a point in the past.
I was at Bentley for the final stop of the season and felt the passage of time in a major way.
Looking up at the rafters I saw the 2007 and 2008 Elite Eight banners. I remember being in the gym with my father at those games when I was a teenager. I remember the stifling energy of the room. I remember guys like Jason Westrol stealing the show.
That was 15 years ago. In my head, I don’t realize that 15 years have passed. I’m trying to live my best life today, but seeing those banners brought back the memories and made me take a step back and realize just how much time had gone by since then.
Time is infinite, but college basketball is finite. Players get four years to wear their school colors and then they’re off to the rest of their lives. But the sport keeps plugging along. Each year a new roster. Each year another crack at a championship.
I traverse the roads of New England so I can mark myself in time. Each stop is a moment in my life I can go back to and remember and think about where I am today by looking at yesterday.
Everyone has anchor points in their life. College basketball is one of mine.
When I first went to Bentley it was a college, but it 2008 it became a university. Specializing in business disciplines, Bentley is one of the top business schools in the region.
It was founded in Boston in 1917 as a school for accounting and finance, and today is a university with 4,200 undergrads in Waltham, 13 miles west of Boston.
With a fresh snow on the ground, the campus looked lovely. The school is split into upper and lower campus with Beaver Street acting as the separator. Upper Campus, which plays up to its name by being located on a moderately steep hill, houses the academic buildings and the dorms while Lower Campus is home to the athletics facilities. There is also North Campus, a short drive up the road, which is just dorms.
And there was one singular construction motif: brick.
Abutting Beaver Street is the Bentley Arena. Opened in 2018 to house the Falcons Division I hockey team, the arena is one of the greenest sports venues in America.
With a capacity of just under 2,000, and built on land that was formerly just six tennis courts, it makes for a cozy atmosphere for hockey.
The Dana Center
The Dana Center is unlike any other college basketball venue in New England. Home to the basketball and volleyball teams, the Dana Center is also the home to all the offices of the athletic department along with multiple classrooms, weight rooms, and other facilities.
But where it stands out from every other venue in New England across all the divisions is that there’s a damn restaurant in the lobby.
Immediately on your left when you walk in you see a jumbotron hanging over a seating area. The screens play ESPN and other sports channels.
But within is a Currito, a burrito chain with 24 locations in seven states. When I first came to the Dana back in 2007 my mind was blown to smithereens. There were no oversteamed hot dogs and potentially stale bags of lays, there was a real damn restaurant right here.
Back then there was also an A&W burger restaurant but that’s long gone, replaced by a GrubHub pickup station for Currito.
So when in Rome, or Waltham, you have a damn burrito before the basketball game.
I’m more of a bowl guy these days and treated myself to the steak. Currito is far and away my favorite of the fast-casual Mexican chains. Having mix-ins like caramelized onions and cucumbers will instantly make me a fan of you.
It was delicious from start to finish. Add in a chocolate chip cookie, one of the top-three chain cookies with Arby’s and Wendy’s, and you have a damn fine if unusual pregame meal.
Before we jump into the game let’s take a quick break and have a moment with Bella.
Bentley has long history of athletic success, especially in basketball. That’s evident by a trophy case just for the sport.
The Dana Center is also the first venue to feature a national championship banner for the 2014 women’s team that went 35-0 and won all but three games by double figures.
With a max capacity of 3,920, the Dana Center is the largest lower division venue in New England by max capacity.
It also features a center-hung scoreboard which makes it feel just a little more big-time than a standard gymnasium.
And it was a big game with the Northeast-10 title on the line. For Bentley, it was a chance to win an 11th conference title. For Franklin Pierce, it was a chance to win its first.
The host Falcons got the better of it early, jumping to an 11-4 lead four minutes into the game.
Eventually, the Ravens found a way to plug the leak and cut the gap to three four minutes later.
The game then fell into a pattern of the Falcons finding ways to stay ahead while the Ravens gave chase. Bentley couldn’t break away Franklin Pierce found ways to make key shots.
This three from Max Zegarowski made it a five-point game late in the half.
Mohamed Traore cut it to three just seconds later thanks to a steal and a dime from Isaiah Moore.
Isaiah Moore, only a junior, is one of the top players in all of Division II. He is sixth nationally with 23 points a game and 18th in the country with 5.4 assists a game. He’ll finish this one with 20 points.
But Bentley kept finding ways to respond and went into halftime up 40-34 thanks to 10 points each from Jordan Mello-Klein and Colton Lawrence.
Out of halftime the script flipped. Franklin Pierce came out and smacked the Falcons hard for six minutes. When Isaiah Moore flashed by his defender for this layup the Ravens led by four.
And so a rock fight ensued. Gritty, intense basketball. Bentley retook the lead but the Ravens went shot for shot with the home team. It was thrilling.
Bentley opened up a six-point lead. Franklin Pierce stayed with them.
Down the stretch the game grew more claustrophobic. There was no floor artistry. It was all about brute force trying to put the ball in the bucket. Pete Blust punched the ball in to put the Falcons up eight with three minutes to play in a play emblematic of how difficult the game had been.
But then Moore hit a three to cut the gap to five to set up the final two minutes with a conference title on the line.
Mello-Klein hit his free throws to put a bow on a win and a conference title.
Bentley 68, Franklin Pierce 62. Final
Player of The Game: Jordan Mello-Klein – 23 points, seven rebounds
Time of Game: 1:30:31
Before the game started I saw a guy walking across the court and could have sworn I knew him. Watching him find his seat I realized I did know him.
I walked on up to where he was sitting. It was the first time I’d seen Don and Al in a couple of years. Ever since I was a young kid I’d been seeing these two at games. They’re constants in an ever-changing world.
When I was younger going to games with my father, Don and Al were always there but we never talked with them. Eventually, probably 10 or 12 years ago we introduced ourselves and have been friendly ever since.
Time goes by but Don and Al stay the same. Both are from the North Shore. Maybe Beverly. Maybe Marblehead. I don’t remember. I don’t know their last names and we have never exchanged phone numbers. We only ever talk when our paths cross on the road.
Don’s a self-important asshole, and I say that with love. Always wearing a Frozen Four hat and a black and gray and blue knockoff starter jacket he probably bought before I was alive, Don always has “very important opinions” about everything from the pros to the refs to every minute aspect of the games.
Al is much more my speed. A gentle, kind man who just wants to enjoy a night out at the gym or the rink with friends. He always make sure to tell me that the Chicago Bears, my father’s favorite team, are terrible. That never fails to get a smile out of me. It’s a small inside joke that remains after all these years.
I’ve run into these guys in New Hampshire at the NCAA hockey tournament, college basketball all across eastern Massachusetts, the Beanpot, and high school hockey.
My relationship with Don and Al is the most freeing relationship I have with any people I know. It’s eternal and never changing. We bump into each out at a game, chat sports and enjoy the show for a few hours, and then we go our separate ways with no expecations. Maybe we see each other a week later, maybe it’s four years later.
Whenever I see them I can forget that time has passed for those few hours. I’m a teenager again talking sports with some local townies who enjoy the game the same way I do. I hope everyone has a relationship like that in their life.
And that brings an end to season three of The Hoops Project. Ten games, four states, three divisions. It was a fun, chaotic season. A lot happened since I walked into Bryant back in October, and I’m grateful to have been able to document the journey along the way.
If you’ve read any of these pieces, thank you. This project is a deep passion of mine, and I love sharing the sport I love and the region I love.
I’m already got plans for season four and it includes a whole lot of miles and a whole lot of weird. I hope you’re around to share the journey with me.
And with that, one last time this year, here’s one for the road…