First-year coach Matt McLaughlin leads BSU mens hoops to hot start

BRIDGEWATER — There couldn’t have been a better spot for Matt McLaughlin to take his first head coaching job.

He simply loves Bridgewater State University hoops.

The BSU alum played three seasons for longtime coach Joe Farroba until he graduated in 2010 and last spring, after Farroba announced his retirement after 36 total years within the program, McLaughlin took over to become the program’s seventh head coach since 1950.

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“I take a lot of pride (in it). I can’t tell you how special of an opportunity it is to be able to become the head coach for a team you once played for,” McLaughlin said. “(I) can obviously relate to the everyday ups and down, ebbs and flows of being a student-athlete. Being here makes it that much more personal. It means the world to me.”

McLaughlin transferred to Bridgewater State before the 2006-07 season after playing one season at Clark University. Between his sophomore and senior seasons, he compiled totals of 518 points, 212 rebounds, 351 assists and 145 steals in 82 games.

As a junior, he started all 29 games on the team that set the program-high for wins in a season (22) and qualified for the NCAA Div. 3 Sweet Sixteen in 2009, averaging 7.2 points and 4.7 assists per game and shooting nearly 80 percent from the free throw line.

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When he graduated in 2010, McLaughlin was as an assistant coach at Wheaton College before coming back to Bridgewater to spend seven seasons as an assistant on the women’s team under head coach Bridgett Casey, who is currently in her 26th year. He jumped back to the men’s side last winter to assist Farroba in what turned out to be his former coach’s farewell tour.

“Since I got here my sophomore year, I felt like it was just a very welcoming experience from the guys on the team, and even the administration,” said McLaughlin. “When Coach Casey reached out to me to coach, I was thrilled at the opportunity. As soon as I got my feet wet there, I knew I wanted to become a head coach and if I could, I’d love to stay at Bridgewater because I love the BSU family and it’s a great culture. It’s been very special so far.”

Coming off a 4-19 campaign last year, McLaughlin led the Bears to nine consecutive wins — five by double digits — in his debut before suffering the first loss to Wesleyan (Connecticut) by four points on Dec. 10.

Surprised by the turnaround?

“Yes and no,” McLaughlin said. “I would say yes because it’s my first year and you don’t know what to expect. You can only hope that everything you’ve prepared for in the preseason, that we can do it. Also, it’s our first group – we have a brand new starting five. But I also knew who we had for skill level, talent level, athleticism and IQ. I can’t say I was expecting to go like 8-0, but I thought it was realistic given the personnel we had.”

The team improved to 11-3 by riding five double-digit scorers (and two players with nine points) to a gritty 108-105 overtime win over Salem State (3-12) on Saturday.

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Six-foot-3, 205-pound freshman Louis Jennings scooped up a crucial offensive rebound to bank home the game-winning bucket through contact with 1.8 seconds to go. He finished with a game-high 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting while collecting six rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes.

The supporting cast of 6-9 graduate-year center Emerson Halbleib (16 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks) and junior swingman Justin Parsons (14 points, five assists, four rebounds) was bolstered by standout outings off the bench by senior forward Stanley Pierre-Louis (11 points, five rebounds), junior forward Payton Priest (10 points) and sophomore guard Tyler Uyemura (nine points, three assists, three steals).

“The bench is our sixth man. Every time I go anywhere, everyone always compliments us on our bench,” McLaughlin said. “It is a gigantic help for us. They’ve bought into it. Really, we don’t do it without (them) and those guys bust their butt at practice and give it to (the starters) every day. It’s because of that, too, (we are) where we are.”

“We’re all close together,” Jennings said. “We all support each other to the max. It really helps a lot when you’re out there. It gives me the confidence to do what I can do best. It’s a lot of fun.”

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The 11-3 start paces Bridgewater State toward its first winning season since 2017-18, when the Bears finished 18-10 with an NCAA Qualifier bid.

“I would give a lot of credit to Coach Mac,” Jennings said. “He came in Day 1 and we put in the work. Completely different mindset, wiped it clean and preached defense. We’re just together.

“It’s very important to him because he played here,” added Jennings. “He loves the game, obviously. He comes in everyday with a great attitude and that helps us because we come in ready to go.”

Bridgewater State travels to Worcester State on Wednesday before playing four of the following five games at home.

“It’s the buy-in,” McLaughlin attributed the winning start. “The guys have been great. I truly enjoy every guy on the team. They’ve brought the energy and bought in from Day 1. And they’ve bought into our core values: being a communicator, positivity and touching the line. If we continue to do that every day, regardless of the circumstance, we’re going to be OK. 

“The guys have allowed me to step in and work with them, and not necessarily (them) work for me. It’s been a ‘work for each other’-type of environment,” said McLaughlin. “So far, that’s really been a reason as to why we’ve been able to move forward and just stick together, stay tough and handle some adversity too.”