WORCESTER, Mass. — With just under two thousand people in attendance at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium, the dramatic stage was set. The NEWMAC Championship game between Springfield and WPI delivered an intriguing overtime game, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since 2002. The ingredients for absolute pandemonium were all present: lead changes, ties, hard fouls, screaming coaches, and even a 14-point deficit overcome by Springfield with just 4:30 left to play in regulation.
With the abundance of emotions flowing through the gym, each team’s goal was to be crowned NEWMAC conference champion. The basketball gods didn’t think that regulation was going to be enough time to settle the game, so they bestowed upon the two teams and all their fans a dramatic overtime in which WPI’s Ryan Kolb solidified his NEWMAC MVP honors by leading his team to a 79-72 victory over Springfield.
From the opening tip, Kolb put his stamp on the game. Getting to the free throw line and knocking down two 3-pointers helped him rack up 16 first half points. Kolb went 11-of-14 from the free throw line, tallying a career best 29 points for game.
“I planned on attacking their big men from the beginning,” Kolb said. “As I kept attacking, I kept getting to the free throw line. I shot 14 free throws—that will get anyone going.”
Both teams started the game tight, evidenced by the robotic tempo of both offenses. In the first ten minutes of the game there were three ties and four lead changes. This opening mini-game of tug-of-war was broken by Kolb’s array of 3-point shots and free throws that spurred a 12-3 WPI run.
From the 10 minute mark in the first half to the four minute mark, Springfield’s lone points came from three free throws.
With 4:14 left in the first half and the score was 30-18 in favor of the Engineers, Springfield’s Alex Berthiaume struggled to find a rhythm throughout the entire game. With just under five minutes to play in the first half Berthiaume had picked up his third foul and was yet to score
“It’s hard to play when you’re not playing. That was the struggle,” said Springfield coach Charlie Brock. “He picked up early fouls, it was a scramble for him; and it’s tough as a player when you’re constantly being put in and out of a game.”
Berthiaume eventually fouled out of the game, and finished with just six points in just 27 minutes of play.
Springfield’s leading scorer was junior Robbie Burke, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds played phenomenally throughout the entire game. Burke’s tough play inspired sophomore teammate, Josh Altman to give The Pride a scoring spark off the bench by scoring 14 points for the afternoon.
Despite the strong play from the bench, Springfield went into the locker room at halftime facing a 12 point deficit at 40-28.
As WPI’s rowdy fans fueled the Engineer’s lead to as high as 14 points with 15 minutes left to play in the second half, Springfield refused to go away. The Pride went on a 25-8 run to give them a 61-58 lead with just 4:29 left to play.
As things were beginning to look favorably for Springfield, WPI head coach Chris Bartley refused to see his team lose a fifth-straight opportunity for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve lost four [conference championship games] in a row so this was an albatross for us,” said Bartley. “We really played well and that’s what I was truly happy about; and the resolve this team has to go 25-2 on the season is amazing for this group of young men.”
With the game tied 67-67, overtime was up for grabs and WPI nabbed it. Springfield scored just five points in the overtime period, while Kolb helped his team score ten points in what would be the eventual win that gives WPI the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament.
Springfield will learn their postseason fate on Monday afternoon at 12:30pm when the Division III selection commitee reveals the 2013 tournament field.