SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – There wasn’t an empty seat at Blake Arena Saturday night when the Springfield College men’s basketball team hosted Ithaca College in the first round of the Division III NCAA tournament.
For all 1,600, on hand, the first half was a show; with both teams exchanging leads in a furious battle for a first round win. Ithaca maintained the last possession in the first half, and would hold a 38-37 lead at the break.
The Pride would go on a 9-0 run early in the second half, their largest lead of the night, only to be countered by a 16-0 run by the Bombers. That deficit, combined with a poor performance from the free-throw line would prove to be too much for the Pride, as their season would end in an 89-77 loss.
The Bombers improve to 20-8 on the season and will face the University of Rochester in the next round of the Division III NCAA Tournament. The Pride would finish 19-9, the best record since the 2005 season.
Alex Berthiaume put on a legendary performance for the Pride, finishing with a game-high 35 points on 14-23 shooting. Josh Altman added 15 points and five rebounds and Robbie Burke finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in the loss.
Nearing the end of the second half, Berthiaume drove to the basket while connecting on a layup while drawing a foul. The public address announcer came over the microphone and announced that Berthiaume had surpassed 1,000 career points for Springfield College. Even more impressive, he accomplished this in only two years, after coming to Springfield College as a transfer. He is the 28th player in Springfield College history to accomplish this feat, however the senior remained humble even after a commendable achievement.
“It’s definitely an accomplishment,” Berthiaume said. “I knew it was in the sights, but I wasn’t really focusing on it. It was nice to hear the crowd roar for me.”
The Pride held a 59-50 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the second half led by a continual offensive attack to the basket by Berthiaume. Following Springfield’s 9-0 run, Ithaca’s Sean Rossi would be fouled shooting a three-pointer and would make all of his free throws. The Bombers would then go on an unanswered 15-0 run, increasing their lead to 65-59, all in less than three minutes.
Coach Brock tried to keep his team calm and focused despite an impressive run by the Bombers.
“[I told them] You just gotta play,” coach Brock said. “At this stage, that’s the whole deal. We had open shots and open looks, we didn’t knock down some of them.”
Fittingly, Berthiaume would end Ithaca’s run with an and-one, but was unable to convert on the free throw. This would be a common theme for the Pride who shot 52.4% from the line while the Bombers shot an impressive 89.3%. A 14-point differential in free throw shooting assuredly contributed to Ithaca’s defeat over the pride.
“I think the free-throws were a major impact in the game, yes,” coach Brock said. “I think there were crucial times we were getting ahead and it would help our lead. They were not only misses but misses at critical times.”
Springfield responded with five straight points of their own, only to watch Ithaca go on another 11-4 run to end the game. Travis Warech was crucial down the stretch for the Bombers, who finished the night with 25 points and 15 rebounds.
While the game may have turned out different if Springfield connected on more of their free throws, it doesn’t take away the strengths of Ithaca and their ability to make in-game adjustments. The Bombers were able to handle the runs Springfield made with maturity.
“They’re very good,” coach Brock said. “The kid Warech for them is an outstanding player, with so many things he does well. They’re seniors, you could tell they were seniors. They came into a very hostile environment. They really executed.”