By Gage Nutter
Assistant Sports Editor
WELLESLEY – One of the most exciting men’s basketball seasons in recent memory came to an end on Saturday night. The Pride men’s basketball team fell to Babson in the NEWMAC semi-final, 67-62. Freshman Jake Ross finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds. Junior captain Andy McNulty finished with 15 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
For a team with six freshmen and no seniors, the Pride played with the poise of veterans for the entirety of the game. Springfield took a quick 12-4 lead five minutes into the game with the help of two McNulty three-pointers, jump shots from Heath Post and Brandon Eckles, and tight defense to keep the Beavers off the board.
With five minutes left in the first half, both teams were beginning to set into the atmosphere of the game and started to let the ball fly from beyond the arc more frequently. The Beavers’ Joey Flannery (30 points) and Frank Ostring got in a three-point shootout with Pride sharpshooter Trey Witter. When the barrage of three’s ended, the Pride still clung on to the lead, 25-21 with 8:01 to go in the first half.
As the first half whined down the Beavers jumped in front after two free throws by Flannery and a layup by Chris Lowry to make it 34-32, Babson.
The second half was off to a promising start for the Pride, until freshman star Ross started to get into foul trouble. The first-year picked up his third foul just 50 seconds into the second half. Ross would sit on the bench for the next eight minutes. The Pride’s leading scorer (22.2 points per game), Ross’ absence for those eight minutes needed to be compensated for. By the efforts of McNulty (four points in that span), Eckles (three points), and Keegan McDonough (two points), the Pride did all they could to compensate for the absence of Ross, but by the time he checked back into the game, the Pride trailed 50-44 with 12:21 to go.
Ross made his presence felt once he checked back in. Off the hands of Eckles and Ross, the Pride put together a quick 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 53-52 with 7:35 to go.
Death, taxes, and Jake Ross finishing at the rim. pic.twitter.com/XDQAGMJWeq
— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) February 25, 2017
As the time on the clock ticked away, the pressure and intensity increased. With 3:26 left in the game, The Pride picked up their first lead since they were ahead 39-38 with 16:53 to go in the second half. Eckles made two free throws to inch Springfield ahead of the Beavers and make it 58-57.
As it came down to the wire, the fate of the Beavers rested on the shoulders of Joey Flannery, and he did not flinch at the opportunity. Flannery went 7-7 at the free throw line with under 1:20 to go in the game. Ross’s night ended with 26 seconds remaining when he picked up his fifth and final foul on a questionable charging call.
The Pride showed no quit until the end, but the free throws by Flannery put the Beavers over the top and into the NEWMAC championship against MIT on Sunday.
Pride head coach Charlie Brock obviously wanted to pick up the win, but he was blown away with how quickly his team adapted to the implemented defensive gameplan.
“We did something different defensively and we worked on it for two days,” said Brock. “I was so impressed with the guys buying in and doing what was asked of them. It was outstanding, it gives me chills just thinking about it.”
Brock is also impressed with the thought process of his players. Instead of hanging their heads in defeat, his guys are ready to find any way they can improve for next year already.
“I think all the guys are thinking along the lines of ‘where do we go now?,’” said Brock. “They are a highly motivated group and they know there is a ton of room for improvement.”
A team that came into the season as one of the youngest in the NEWMAC conference, only returning five of their 15 man roster from the year before, and had no seniors came two or three plays away from beating the No. 1 ranked team in the country for the second time this season.
If anything is guaranteed in this world, it is almost guaranteed that the now battle tested Pride men’s basketball will be back with a vengeance in the winter of 2017-18.