By Steev Riccardo
WORCESTER – The Bartlett Indians were knocked out of the opening round of the Clark Tournament by a hot shooting and physical Auburn Rockets team 59-54 in a heated battle on Monday afternoon.
The Indians shot the ball poorly early, helping the Rockets get a 17-11 advantage at the end of opening quarter.
Indians’ senior co-captains Akeem Belnavis and Matt Huberdault each hit 3-point shots and sophomore Jacob Mailloux added five points, but that was about all the Indians could muster as they battled the Rockets to an 11-11 second quarter, trailing 28-22 at the half.
The Rockets extended their lead to eight points before the Indians finally woke up offensively and went on a 9-2 run, getting their first lead of the night with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter.
Belnavis led the charge with 12 third-quarter points and the Indians were back in the game, holding a 43-42 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Indians led 53-52 with 3:02 left after Belnavis hit a couple of big free throws, but they could not score the rest if the way as the Rockets buckled down on defense and scored the last four points of the game and held on for the win.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the number-three seeded 13-7 Indians, who put together a good second-half effort but it just wasn’t enough.
“I thought we were prepared and we were ready, but at the same time we relied on the outside shot and it didn’t fall for us early in the game,” said Indians coach Tony Paranto. “We made a nice comeback and in the fourth quarter we had a chance to win. We just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
Belnavis, who led the Indians with 23 points, was disappointed afterwards. “Our intensity just wasn’t there in the beginning. The energy was in the locker room - it just didn’t come with us out on the court and we got off to a slow start. I still love our guys though cause they fought hard.”
The season is not over for the Indians, who have qualified for the district playoffs, scheduled to get underway sometime next week.