By Gage Nutter
SPRINGFIELD — The Pride’s performance during its conference schedule this season has been a roller coaster ride — and not one of those fun ones either. More like one of those carnival rides that seem to almost be designed to make you nauseous.
But, with Saturday’s huge conference win against MIT, things have the potential to get very fun.
Springfield College men’s basketball defeated No. 6 MIT on Saturday, 66-61. The Pride’s Jake Ross scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds in the game. Cam Earle had 11 points, all in the second half, to help lead Springfield to victory.
Springfield upsets No. 6 MIT. pic.twitter.com/85vM1bxyz2
— Gage Nutter (@GageNutter_) February 9, 2019
Setting the tone
The Pride set the tone on both ends of the court to open the game.
Springfield opened the game on an 8-0 run. The spurt was catalyzed by a steal and four points from Kevin Durkin — plus a bucket from Heath Post and Jake Ross.
Durkin, who stands at 6’ 8” and 260 pounds, used his large frame to move defenders in the paint and create open shots.
On defense, when he stole the ball, he knew what play was coming.
“Coach (Charlie Brock) said that would be one of their first few plays, so I definitely saw that coming and was in position for that,” said Durkin on his steal. “I had great practices leading up to today, so I felt really good coming in and thought if I got the ball down low I should go up every time I get it. It worked out most of the time. I felt good out there.”
Durkin finished the game with 10 points.
Brock thinks Durkin did a solid job of asserting himself in the paint early in the game.
“He attacked the rim, and he is capable of it,” said Brock. “With the defense that they play they like to switch. Sometimes he had a mismatch on him and he took advantage of it. Very well done.”
With so much hanging in the balance for the Pride coming into Saturday’s game, the matchup felt like a playoff showdown.
The competition for the final NEWMAC tournament spot is getting tight, Springfield needed to win on Saturday and come out on top in as many of its remaining games as possible.
When a talented team comes to Blake Arena, plus playoff implications are involved, it can make for a very interesting game.
“I have been looking forward to this game for the last 48 hours,” said Jake Ross. “A lot of the guys knew that this place was going to be a good home crowd, good energy. From the start we had a lot of support behind us. Just knowing that we have to win. We played it like a playoff game, and we have to continue to do so the next few games — take down WPI and just keep it rolling.”
Brock enjoyed how well the team turned its energy and anticipation for the game into results on the court, but it was how the team responded when things didn’t got their way that impressed him the most.
“I thought the energy was great, but more importantly I thought that when we didn’t have a spurt that wasn’t what we wanted we were able to come back from it and re-energize,” said Brock. “There have been times when we have had a hard time doing that.”
Coming into Saturday’s matchup, MIT averaged 84 points per-game. Springfield held the Engineers to 61 in the win.
Although the Engineers were without team captain Alex Jurko (averages 18.5 points per-game this season), the task of containing Bradley Jomard was no easy task.
Jomard scored a game high of 32 points, but coupled his scoring performance with seven turnovers — also a game high.
“We identified shooters,” said Ross. “A lot of their guys shoot threes. They have Jomard and Jurko, but Jurko was out, so we had the ability to key in on Jomard — make him make plays. When he has the ball a lot it gives us the chance to feel out our defense. It helped us win the game.”
The Engineers turned the ball over 17 times in the game. Springfield scored 24 points off those turnovers — that accounted 36 percent of the team’s points.
Springfield played defense collectively well. Ross finished the game with three steals. Jake Jacobson, Heath Post and Durkin each finished with a steal.
Although he only had one steal, Jacobson was all over the court defensively. His ability to recognize when he should come over to help down low was a big reason why the team’s defense was able to hold MIT to 61 points.
“(Jacobson’s) overall presence was huge,” said Brock. “When he had the opportunity to help, he was there. He had some rotations that were really good. He played physical, and that is what we have to do during this stretch. We have to be physical and rebound — take the hit — and JJ is very capable of that.”
Second half stars
At the end of the first half, Cam Earle had zero points and Heath Post had two.
Although the Pride went into the second half with a one point lead, it seemed like Springfield still had another gear that it had yet to reach.
To start off the second half, there was a concentrated effort to find Earle open in the corners with off ball screens and quick ball movement.
The strategy worked — Earle scored 11 points in the half. Post also found ways to chip in — he finished the game with 10 points.
It wasn’t a matter of Earle hitting more shots than he did in the first half, to Brock, the team’s success in moving the ball and finding him open in certain spots allowed him to flourish.
‘It was overall team movement, and we found him,” said Brock on Earle’s second half performance. “If we are patient enough to let that play out we will find him and he will make them. I thought it was just a matter of him moving well and the team moving really well.”
Much like most close games do, the final minute of playing time became a free throw shooting showcase.
Springfield led with eleven seconds to go, 62-59. MIT decided to foul freshman Collin Lindsay and force him to go to the line.
A first year player playing in crunch time against a top 10 team in the country was headed to the free throw line to put the game on ice.
He stepped up and made both.
“(At the free throw line) I’m just thinking that I have to stay calm and focused,” said Lindsay. “Same thing in practice. Every day after practice I am shooting free throws with (Kendall Baldwin). It helps a lot. I just had to stay calm and collected.”
Both Ross and Post also made free throws down the stretch to help seal the victory for the Pride. The team finished the game 17-19 from the line.
The final stretch
Springfield currently sits at 5-6 in conference play. The team’s performance through NEWMAC play has been, to put it lightly, inconsistent.
But it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish — and with this win, Springfield has an opportunity to potentially go into the postseason on a win streak.
The team has three games left, two of them at home. Before this Saturday’s win, Springfield didn’t have any proof that they had what it takes to defeat a top ranked team. Now, they do.
With the added confidence, anything is possible for the team moving forward.
“Knocking out the No. 1 seed in our conference is a great feeling,” said Durkin. “It definitely gives us some momentum moving forward these last few games and into playoffs, too. Hopefully we can make the most of it.”