When Springfield men’s basketball lost to WPI in the NEWMAC semifinals on Feb. 24, not only were the Engineers excited, but the Pride’s nemesis, the Babson Beavers, stood in the corner of the gym and let a few hidden smirks escape concealment as well.
The Pride had taken a huge step forward from last season and, with key senior leaders like Ben Diamond, Andy McNulty, and Brandon Eckles graduating, it seemed like this year was the Pride’s time to strike, and now it had all fallen apart.
After the game, I spoke to Pride head coach Charlie Brock outside the team’s locker room about the seniors, and what they have meant to the program over the years.
“They have definitely put a stamp on it. To win a regular season NEWMAC championship is something that can’t be taken away.”
As our conversation concluded, he told me that he felt like the team’s chances of making the NCAA tournament were decent. “Our numbers are good,” he said.
I took it as an optimistic outlook. At the time, Amherst was still ahead of Springfield in the regional rankings, it wasn’t outlandish to think that Babson could get an at-large bid, and the winner of the tournament would get an automatic bid.
With this thinking, in the second paragraph of my recap to the semifinal loss, I wrote this:
“Springfield might have defeated Babson and WPI the last time they met each team, but the Engineers and the Beavers, literally, got the last laugh.”
As it turns out, two weeks later, Springfield is the last team standing out of the three.
Two days after that game, the Pride, somehow, some way, made it into the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid. Interestingly, WPI, who went on to lose in the NEWMAC finals to MIT, and Babson, did not make the tournament. Springfield was a longshot, but they were in.
It’s the Pride who got the last laugh.
A Second Wind
Now that the the team is in the tournament, it’s like a new season has begun. They have been granted another life.
It’s so exciting and commendable what the team has done so far in the big dance, that it’s easy to forget that the Pride’s first round game against Albright was almost their last game in the tournament.
Springfield led 87-86 with five seconds remaining. Albright’s Brandon Lindsay took a three-pointer with Jake Ross and Cam Earle closing in defensively. Lindsay’s shot bounced off the left side of the rim and into the hands of Heath Post. After a free throw from Post, the team was moving on.
“I have been on the other end of it when shots like that go in,” said McNulty about the late three-pointer. “It looked online. It was a tough and long wait to see that it missed.”
If the Pride’s first round game was tough, the team’s matchup in the second round with Cabrini University, who came into the game with a record of 25-2, was going to be a grind.
Fortunately, Springfield shot the three-ball like it was no ones business in the contest. The team went 16-26 from behind the arc in the game. The output tied the school record for three-pointers in a game. A record that the team set when they defeated Clark back on Jan. 10.
“Whenever you are able to knock down shots early in a game it gives you the confidence to know that it’s their the rest of the game,” said Cam Earle. “We got in a good rhythm and flow.”
It’s safe to say I am done questioning this team. I’ll admit it, once the Pride lost in the NEWMAC semifinals, I thought the season was over. Then they somehow made the tournament. I thought there was a possibility that the team would be content with just making the tournament. Then they picked up a scrappy victory over Albright. I wasn’t confident that they could take out a team with as good a body of work as Cabrini. Of course, once again, I was wrong.
Now, the Pride have to take on Hamilton in the Sweet Sixteen. Hamilton hails from the mighty New England Small College Athletic Conference with the likes of Amherst, Wesleyan, Tufts, and Williams. Springfield is 1-3 against teams from the conference this season, and Hamilton leads the entire conference in points per-game (86.3) and steals per-game (8.8).
Do the Pride’s chances look good? No. But did the team’s chances of making the tournament in the first place look good? No. A week ago, did their chances of making the Sweet Sixteen look good? No.
It really doesn’t matter what my, or anyone else’s, expectation for the team is. As long as the team expects and prepares for the best, there is no reason to say that they can’t reach it.
The Final Stamp
As Brock said, the seniors on this year’s team have put a stamp on the program by winning a NEWMAC regular season title. The program has found a way to finish close games, unlike last season, and are no longer seen as the young group that could have a future someday. That future is now.
By the time the Pride’s run in the tournament is done, its not out of the question to say that that the team will be figuratively taking out more ink and another stamp. This one, with a different message: