By Garrett Cote
SPRINGFIELD – The scoreboard didn’t matter on Wednesday night in Blake Arena. Win or lose, Springfield men’s basketball head coach Mike McClendon accomplished his task for the day before the game even started.
The Pride hosted their first ever Multiple Sclerosis Awareness game, donning black shirts with “#MSStrong” plastered on the back. McClendon’s mom, Michelle Brown, was diagnosed with MS over 20 years ago, and continues to battle the disease to this day.
To make matters sweeter, Springfield dominated in every phase of its 91-74 victory over MIT. Following the final buzzer, McClendon had every member of the team sign the game ball so he could give it to his mother.
Sports are much deeper than the outcome, and Wednesday portrayed just that. Playing for his mother meant everything to McClendon.
“It was an emotional day. I’ve always wanted to have a game for MS, for my mom,” he said. “I told them, ‘just go out and play your hardest and have fun, and she’ll be proud of that. Win or lose.’ The ball is going to go to her, because I coach because of her. Without her, I’m not in this seat.”
Fifth-year senior guard Daryl Costa got the scoring started for the Pride with a fastbreak layup courtesy of an Engineers turnover. With one minute remaining, 28 points later, Costa ended the game the exact same way: a fastbreak layup with nobody around.
His 30 points were a new career high, and he did it on an astonishing 13-for-17 shooting from the field.
“I notice myself getting going when I get myself a couple easy ones first instead of trying to force something up,” Costa said. “Getting a layup first, it definitely boosted the confidence early on.”
MIT had no answers for the stingy veteran. If Costa was given room, he’d rise up and sink a jumper. Play in his face, and he’s already two steps ahead with a clear look at the rim.
What started as a frustrating season for Costa (missing games due to injury, not playing much in the first handful of games) has turned into a promising latter half. He’s put together an impressive run of games over the past few weeks, scoring over 15 in six of his last seven.
“Players like that, you’ve got to let them find their rhythm,” McClendon said of Costa. “As the game goes, as the season goes, he might take some bad shots. But players like that, once they find their rhythm, they’re gonna get going for you. He has freedom, but he also knows when to make the play and run the offense. Without him having that ‘I’m gonna go get mine’ attitude, I don’t know if the rest follow. We kind of need that from him.”
Easy buckets were at a premium in the first five minutes of game action for Springfield. It wasn’t until the Pride picked up the tempo that the game broke open.
A 19-8 advantage in fast break points, along with a 19-4 difference in points off turnovers was all Springfield needed to coast in the second half.
“Our model for the whole year has been get out and run,” Costa said. “We know we’re better in transition, so that’s what we try to do. In the half court, we don’t tend to get open looks as easily as we do in transition. We just want to push the pace so we tire them out, so when we do run our half court sets we can be more efficient and execute.”
All 13 players that suited up for the Pride saw action on Wednesday, and all 13 players recorded some type of stat that contributed to the win. Josiah Evely was the next leading scorer behind Costa with 17 points and four rebounds, and Panayiotis Kapanides added a season-high 14 points to go along with four boards.
“This was a game we felt comfortable with,” McClendon said. “We knew they could score, so we knew if we played solid defense on everyone and stopped them at the rim, it would be a comfortable game.”
Sophomore forward Josh Hartley filled the absence of Curtiss Blische, who has been one of Springfield’s most consistent players this season. Hartley provided a dominant defensive presence down low, swatting away shots left and right in the early going. He also snagged three offensive rebounds in a two minute stretch in the second half before fouling out later on.
“He knew he had an extra task tonight with Curt out, he was going to have to play some big minutes,” McClendon said of Hartley. “We just have to keep him out of foul trouble. Other than that, his energy and effort on the defensive end is unmatched. He finds the ball and hits the ball. He should play volleyball, because he literally spikes everything. He got it done tonight.”
The Pride (6-14, 3-6) still have a legitimate shot at sneaking in the NEWMAC tournament as a five or six seed, but they have to start stringing wins together. It starts with defeating Wheaton on Saturday at 12 p.m., Springfield’s second to last home game of the year.
“If we win a couple more games, we lock in that playoff spot, and from there it’s who can play better on that given day,” Costa said. “I think a couple of us older guys know it. We’re trying to get these younger guys to feel it, too. Once we get in there, there’s no pressure. All we gotta do is be better on that day. And I have faith in our guys that we can do it.”
Photo: Garrett Cote/The Springfield Student