Although the 2020-21 season was canceled due to the pandemic, the core of Bentley’s team remained committed to practicing as often as allowed. With an extra year of eligibility offered to the seniors, including Sharon’s Jordan Mello-Klein, the focus was on returning to the court and making the most of one final season.
So far, it has worked out even better than the Falcons could have imagined.
With an 82-75 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.) at the Dana Center, top seed Bentley (25-4) earned its fourth Div. II East Regional title in program history and its first since 2010. Mello-Klein, who played two years at Sharon before transferring to Thayer Academy, led the Falcons with 17 points and added eight rebounds, four steals, and three assists in the regional final and was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP).
The Falcons, reseeded as No. 4, will now face No. 5 Northwest Missouri State, the two-time defending national champions, in the Elite Eight.
“I don’t really have any words for it, it’s incredible,” Mello-Klein explained. “It’s something that we’ve kind of talked about since I came in but to see it really happen is incredible and to do it with the guys that I came in with who are now my best friends and coaches who have meant so much to me and put so much trust in me it’s incredible to see it come full circle.”
It has been a dream season for the Falcons, who claimed the NE-10 regular season title and, avenging a pair of losses to Franklin Pierce during the season, won the conference tournament as well. Now, Bentley is trying to put the final touches by getting to the Final Four for the third time in its history.
“We knew that we had chemistry from all of us playing together but to accomplish the regular season, the NE-10 playoffs, and the regional, I would never have said that,” Mello-Klein explained. “Even one of those things is extremely hard.”
A fifth-year senior point guard, Mello-Klein has been racking up the individual awards this season as well. In addition to being named the MOP of the regional, he was named first team All-NE-10 and the MOP of the NE-10 Tournament. He averaged 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 37.7 minutes this season, finishing third in the NE-10 in rebounds, assist, and steals and leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Mello-Klein also scored his 1,000th career point earlier this season (he had 1,130 as of the end of the regular season). “In all honesty, it doesn’t matter as much as winning everything,” he said about the individual accolades. “They’re fun to get, just certifies what I’ve been doing for all these I can’t even tell you how many years, but to win the stuff with your best friends means so much more than anything.”
He credits the experience on the roster as one of the major factors for Bentley’s success this season, and the willingness of the players to continue putting in the hard work last year even when there was no promise of games being played.
“The whole class came back with hopes that we could accomplish something,” he said. “We sat down a year ago and made it a priority to make it happen this year and we did it.”
The pandemic and the loss of a season added a new perspective to getting on the court every day, one that has fueled the Falcons’ upperclassmen.
“When basketball is taken away from you, and I’m a guy who’s never gone a day without it, when you’re getting a week or two taken away from you, it makes you understand that this is a finite time that we have playing college basketball,” Mello-Klein reflected.
“When this season started, every single thing we took advantage of, every single practice, every single game. We didn’t look forward at all because it’s my last season, so selfishly I don’t want this to end and I want to prolong my career as long as possible. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.”
Mello-Klein played two seasons at Sharon, earning HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year honors as a sophomore, before transferring to Thayer. It was a sacrifice of time and the chance to play with hometown friends, but also a commitment to playing at a higher level of basketball. He also admitted that he missed the atmosphere of a high school gym during a playoff run.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere at prep school,” he explained. “When I was at Sharon, we were pretty decent, so we’d get a pretty good crowd and everything but at prep school it’s non-existent.”
The crowds have come out to cheer on the Falcons in the postseason and Mello-Klein is looking forward to keeping this run going as long as possible and add themselves to a select list of Bentley teams under head coach Jay Lawson, who is in his 29th season, to make a tournament run.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “Bentley is a historic program. To be one of the groups that he talks about as those special teams, it’s incredible, and we’ve got another chance to do something even more special on Tuesday and hopefully that will continue on.”
Bentley will face Northwest Missouri State on Tuesday at 1:00 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
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