SPRINGFIELD — Heath Post made the split second decision — he was going to lay it all on the line for this loose ball.
Midway through the second half of Springfield’s matchup with WPI on Wednesday night, the ball was on its way out of bounds towards the Pride’s bench.
Post ran towards the ball and dove to keep it in bounds. After the save, he crashed through the chairs on Springfield’s sideline. Once breaking through the chairs, he slid on the floor and crashed into the bleachers.
“Personally, getting that loose ball was very important for me,” said Post. “I knew we needed another possession. That is the mentality everybody has. We’re willing to sacrifice our bodies, our time, everything we have to get a win for the team…every little play matters.”
Post’s sacrifice didn’t go to waste. Springfield retained possession and played well down the stretch to defeat the Engineers, 74-67. The win marked the team’s third straight conference victory. Jake Ross finished the game with 30 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Post concluded the game with 20 points and seven rebounds.
“I think (tonight) was a continuation of what we have been trying to do for months,” said Pride head coach Charlie Brock. “Things are starting to kick in. Offensive things really did kick in during the second half. We have a couple of spurts defensively, but we are able to get out of them and get up again. I’m not sure that we were really able to do that a month or two ago. It is a very inspiring to see the guys do that. That is all within them.”
Heath Post career points: 1,000 pic.twitter.com/qA1H9tfrj6
— Gage Nutter (@GageNutter_) February 14, 2019
The game got rolling with an important individual milestone.
Post received the ball from Ross at the left elbow and swished a jumper for his sixth point of the game.
It is a shot he makes multiple times a game, but this one was more important. This basket gave Post his 1,000th career point as a member of the Pride.
Post joins a club of 31 other former players to have reached the 1,000 point milestone.
“It is humbling when you look at all the great basketball players that have come through here,” said Post on the achievement. “But I’d be nowhere without my parents, siblings, my family and all my friends — obviously my teammates and coaches, too. They are the ones that push me everyday to be the best that I can be. I just want to focus on the wins now.”
The game started as a back and forth affair, but then the Pride’s big men, namely Kevin Durkin, started to get into foul trouble early.
Durkin had two fouls within the first five minutes into the game and had to sit on the bench for a lot of the first half.
With Durkin on the bench for long periods, Springfield lacked strength and height down low — WPI took advantage of the situation.
The Engineers went on to outscore the Pride in the paint 34-22.
“Three fouls on (Kevin Durkin) certainly (didn’t help),” said Brock on the team’s issues in the paint. “We couldn’t start him in the second half and matchup the way we would have liked. Then there is a weight issue — size issue — with Heath and their big guy. I thought we did a good job of compensating throughout the game. We got a few doubles that helped us.”
The Pride had its issues defending the Engineers’ shooters on the perimeter in the latter part of the half.
WPI zipped passes around the three point line to keep Springfield’s defense moving. Kahleb Downing and Jake Needleman was the team’s biggest threat from three in the stretch.
With the duo’s sharp shooting, WPI jumped ahead 29-20 with 5:05 to go in the opening half.
Springfield started to string together solid offensive possessions in the remaining minutes to close the gap to a more manageable tally. With the help of timely buckets from Colin Lindsay and Cam Earle, the Pride went into the half trailing 35-32.
Brock’s point of emphasis with the team at halftime was ball movement. The team’s offense felt stagnant at points in the first half, and it was a direct result of them struggling to cycle through offensively and attack the paint at times.
“The guys need to be reminded that they have to cut and they have to look for the ball when they do cut and attack the rim,” said Brock. “We talked about getting the ball in the paint. I’m not sure if we did it or not, but it certainly changed our mentality.”
After failing to do much damage in the paint during the second half, Springfield attacked the area on offense more efficiently moving into the second half.
The second stanza of play was peppered with layups plus fouls for the Pride. Ross converted on a few and Costa came through with a big basket plus a foul with 4:38 to go in the game.
The matchup was tight in the last few minutes, bur Ross started to assert himself in the paint offensively.
The junior star accounted for 13 of the Pride’s last 16 points to close out the victory.
“We have worked on not settling and attacking the rim,” said Ross. “When that happens I usually get a pretty good look or I find a good shooter on our team — we’ll take those odds almost every time.”
Although Ross has shown the ability to dominate close to the rim, it is his passing ability while he drives that is most impressive to Brock.
“If he doesn’t have it — that is why Cam got those threes,” said Brock. “(Jakes’) vision is so good at finding people. In the process of trying to stop him they have to leave someone and he finds them. It is a wonderful innate quality.”
With three straight conference wins under their belt, the team feels like things are starting to click.
“There is definitely more of an understanding of our strategies and the different things we do,” said Post. “We are asking more questions when we don’t understand things. People are realizing that if they do one thing on defense and get a stop it’ll lead to good things on offense. It is great to watch. Especially with some of the young guys excelling and starting to really understand what we do here.”
Springfield takes on Babson in its regular season finale on Saturday. The Pride need to win to keep its chances of getting into the conference tournament high.
The last time the two programs faced off, Springfield lost on a buzzer beating three pointer. Now, with the season on the line, the team is ready to make things right.
“It’s time for some payback,” said Post.
Photo courtesy Sam Leventhal