A junior, he wanted to win for the six Albright seniors who watched Lebanon Valley cut down the nets at Bollman Center three years ago after the MAC Commonwealth men’s basketball title game.
Simmons also wanted to win to honor Chris McLaurin, one of his high school basketball coaches in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who died Monday after a battle with cancer.
“I thought about him all week,” he said. “We were pretty close. He got me into basketball. I didn’t start playing until I was in ninth grade. He told me I should start playing. He really kept me going.”
Simmons would have made McLaurin proud, scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the Lions’ 82-77 victory over the Dutchmen at Sorrentino Gymnasium for the title.
The 6-9, 285-pound Simmons was nearly unstoppable, making 11-of-15 shots and drawing Lebanon Valley defenders away from his teammates. He was named the game MVP.
“Every game we play we want to try to get him as many touches as we can,” Lions coach Rick Ferry said. “When you have that type of size, you need to take advantage of it.”
Albright (7-3) won its first MAC Commonwealth championship since 2010 because of Simmons, its efficiency on offense, its 3-point shooting and its timely defense.
It was the third championship-game appearance in the last five years for the Lions, and they made the most of it.
They led 39-30 at halftime and extended it to 11 three times early in the second half. Lebanon Valley (8-3) then made a charge, cutting it to 52-51 on a 3-pointer by former Berks Catholic standout Luis Garcia and a layup by Zach Tucker off Garcia’s pass with 11:37 left.
Ferry quickly called a timeout.
“Sammy (Majekodunmi) got in the huddle and started screaming, ‘We’re not losing this game!’ ” Simmons said. “Seeing that passion and how much he wanted that win, we gave every ounce we had. We have nothing left in that tank. We left everything on the floor.”
Albright responded with a 15-1 run over the next four minutes, creating three turnovers and stretching the lead to 67-52 on back-to-back 3s by Sidney Brown and Jordan Guerrero. The Dutchmen never recovered.
“We know basketball is a game of runs,” Majekodunmi said. “We just had to focus and finish the job.”
Majekodunmi, who finished with 17 points and four assists, made 7-of-10 free throws in the final minute to seal it. Guerrero scored 15 points, including three 3-pointers.
Albright made nine 3-pointers, which was vital against the Dutchmen’s sagging defense, and committed just 10 turnovers.
“Ten turnovers?” Ferry said as he read the box score. “Wow!”
Justin Baker scored 24 points for Lebanon Valley, mostly on drives to the basket. Collin Jones had 18 points, Garcia had 14, Tucker 10 and Twin Valley product Jeremy Deihm six.
When the horn sounded, the Lions celebrated wildly. They screamed, danced, jumped and made a beeline to cut down the nets. Assistant coach DeLascio Dancy, a starter on the 2018 team, climbed the ladder first and snipped the first strand.
It was quite a contrast to the scene at Bollman Center three years ago when Lebanon Valley made a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound to win 70-68 and leave Albright players stunned.
“This was the opposite,” Majekodunmi said. “That game was all that was on my mind today.”
A senior who was playing his final game for the Lions, Majekodunmi ran around the court taking selfies of himself. He didn’t start for the first time since his freshman year, a span of 63 games, because of disciplinary reasons and he forgot his jersey.
The day ended much better for him and Albright.
“Things didn’t look too promising,” he said, “but then I had to just adapt and ball out. I only had one goal. I just wanted to win a championship.”