It’s that time of year again for the Springfield College men’s basketball team: win or go home. Saturday’s NEWMAC semifinal game against WPI on the campus of host MIT will decide those only two options for the Pride.
No. 3 Springfield takes on No. 2 WPI Saturday at 3 p.m. MIT will face the winner of the opening round match-up between No. 4 Babson College and No. 5 Wheaton College at 1 p.m.
Leading Springfield in this potential final weeks are the only two seniors that have been a part of Charlie Brock’s program for their four years on Alden Street.
Ryan Coburn and Evan Christner have been here before. When the two were freshmen, they watched MIT take the NEWMAC championship from them in the tournament finals 76-50. Last season, it was those same Engineers who brought the Pride’s season to an end.
In fact, Coburn and Christner have never gotten the better of the Engineers from Cambridge. In four seasons, Coburn and Christner are winless in the regular and postseason (0-10) match-ups.
However, if the cards fall a certain way, the two seniors will get one more chance to crack the win column.
“You never like admitting when a team is better than you,” said Coburn. “But they have been over these past few years.”
This year, MIT has been better than Springfield. They have been ranked consistently in the top-5 in Division III and finished the regular season at No. 3 in the D3hoops.com Top 25.
In two match-ups this season, MIT came away with Ws in both. However, game two saw Springfield with a chance to take the lead late with the game tied. A costly turnover gave MIT its chance, however, and made it count as the Engineers held on for a 69-67 victory. MIT won the first meeting of the season on Jan. 4, 67-59.
However, before any possible rematch can take place, Springfield has to take care of business Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got to keep thinking this could possibly be the last time we’ll be playing competitive basketball,” said Christner. “This week we’ve got to keep that in mind. The other guys know that and we hope they’re going to work as hard as we are.”
Both Coburn and Christner have been integral parts for Brock over their four years. Their paths however, have been a little different.
“I really didn’t give [Christner] a whole lot of a chance of becoming a viable part of the varsity program,” said Brock. “But he worked hard; his condition has been a factor, but he’s gone beyond that.”
“He’s improved his footwork over the years into becoming a viable part of the varsity program as an undersized center, and you’ve got to give him credit.”
Coburn saw starting minutes right from his first year but has also come along way.
“Ryan has made definite improvements and I think he’s even improved a lot this year,” said Brock. “I think he’s realized that if he can put the ball on the floor, he can get to the rim, he can get by people, he’s quicker than most, especially when he’s face-on.”
“As a shot blocker, he’s just outstanding. Probably one of the best I’ve ever coached.”
“We had some issues and interruptions in their play, off the court kind of things that impacted what their on the court situation is,” said Brock.
“Let’s hope that that adversity raises us up to another level, so they understand how absolutely awesome it is to play college basketball in this scenario,” added Brock, now in his 14th year with the Pride. “I think they’re recognizing now what they’ve been able to do.”
Despite their different roles, both players know how it feels to get so close and watch another team hoist the trophy and a ticket to the NCAA Tournament along with it.
“We definitely want to be mentally prepared for every practice this week,” said Coburn. “We definitely have a different work ethic this season seeing as we’ve never won this tournament and we’re always losing to these two teams.”
If both Springfield and MIT take care of business on Saturday, it would give the Pride a chance to be the ones punching a ticket to the tourney if they were to out-duel the Engineers on Sunday.
“It would be nice to say we got one from them,” said Christner. “They’ve been a top-25 team pretty much these past four years.”
“It would be great to say we competed with them every year and then were able to beat them in the finals our senior year.”
Corey Hanlon may be reached at email@example.com