By Vin Gallo
SPRINGFIELD — Malik Pouncy heaved Westfield State’s final gasp, a turnaround jumper, as the clock ticked below the final minute mark of the Springfield men’s basketball team’s ninth game of the season. After almost a full month between its last win at Keene State, the Pride earned its first win of December on Saturday, with a 73-62 victory over the Owls.
Pride forward Heath Post corralled Pouncy’s misfire from the glass to round out a 23 rebound performance. The junior, after being fouled from beyond the arc on the next possession by Jauch Green Jr., sank his three attempts from the free throw line to secure the Springfield victory, and a rallying 20-20 performance: 22 points and 23 rebounds to go with seven blocks. Post’s rebound total was only one off from the program’s single-game record.
“It’s great to get back on track [as a team],” said Post. “We’ve been working very hard in practice, trying to fix the things we needed to fix and a win before winter break is definitely huge. I think we can carry the momentum onto winter break and into intersession as well. It was a great team win for us overall.”
Identical to the first half, Springfield shot 42 percent in the second. The Pride followed up a 38-point first half with a 35-point second. Jake Ross, who netted 31 points to go along with nine rebounds and five assists, started Springfield’s latter attack with and and-one layup, 54 seconds following halftime. From there, the Pride reclaimed momentum, powered by an 84 percent second half performance on 19 tries at the free throw line.
Springfield head coach Charlie Brock said a factor that helped dictate the game toward a Pride win had been their ability to adapt early to Westfield’s offensive plays — schemes that had helped the Owls score 277 total points through their previous three wins.
“I thought the adjustment we made in the first five to seven minutes down the stretch in the first half was solid,” Brock said. “They scored 24 points in the first 10 minutes and scored 15 in the second 10 minutes and that was a nice adjustment by the players on the floor everybody did a better job at keeping them out of the paint.”
Westfield’s attack to start the contest was mainly limited to execution in the post, as the Owls, much like the Pride, struggled to convert from three-point range. To counter shooting 2-for-7 in the opening half, Westfield turned to Marcus Collins, who scored 11 points during the first 20 minutes. However, Springfield recovered and was still able to hold the Owls to 37 percent from the field throughout that span.
“I just think we reacted earlier to the stuff that they did [offensively] and we were in a better position to defend them getting into the paint,” Brock said. “The first 10 minutes of the game they were allowed to get into the paint … they got middle penetration which we’re not in a position to rotate. That’s not the way we play and we let them do it so it kind of put us out in the first 10 minutes and I think we controlled that [from then on] – they shot poorly in the second half at 26 percent.”
Heading into Saturday, an area in need of improvement for Springfield, had been its performance on the glass. During its six-game losing streak, the team averaged 31 rebounds per contest. Behind Post’s efforts, the Pride recovered in this area against Westfield with 46.
In addition to acknowledging that the team is still working a bit on its patience and discipline, Brock stressed that the Pride needs to focus on challenging opponents’ field goal attempts and establishing position for rebounds.
“…I want more shot contestment and boxouts,” said Brock. “[Westfield] got 16 offensive rebounds and we can’t have that.”
To close out 2018, Springfield will be looking to use Saturday’s win as a springboard into a winning streak. The Pride will face off against their next opponent, Salisbury, at home, in the annual end-of-year Naismith Classic on Dec. 29.
Featured photo courtesy of Jack Margaros