By Gage Nutter
Jake Ross on the bench during a close game in the second half is not the most ideal scenario. Especially in the first game of the season.
But, thanks to big buckets from Cam Earle, Heath Post and Daryl Costa down the stretch, Springfield College men’s basketball fought through a rough first half finish and held on to defeat Western New England 95-84 on Thursday night. Ross led the way with 35 points and 16 rebounds for the Pride.
The Pride struggled at the end of the first half, surrendering a 13-3 run going into the break. The team didn’t start the second half particularly well either, but the team started to flow offensively midway through the second half.
“In the second half, to me, I thought, our possessions were more productive and with more of a purpose (than the first half),” said Pride head coach Charlie Brock. “It’s the first game and we are trying to get to know each other. I just thought our possessions were more productive, but because they were more purposeful in the second half.”
Earle was a big reason why the team came out solid to start the game. He made three-straight three pointers to force Western New England to take a timeout early in the first half. He scored 16 points in the opening half and finished the game with a career-high 24 points.
The crowd came alive around the seven-minute mark of the first half. Both teams traded buckets. The Golden Bears made its third-straight three-pointer to get the Western New England crowd on its feet. To quell the momentum shift, Ross brought the ball down the floor and pulled up for a deep three in transition. He made the bucket and got fouled to silence the home crowd and to put Springfield ahead 29-25.
The sequence shifted the momentum toward Springfield for a time, but shots refused to fall at the end of the half and Western New England took advantage by going on a run and claiming the lead going into the break, 44-43.
The Golden Bears’ Mike Pettway, much like he was in last year’s game, was difficult for Springfield to contain throughout the night. He finished the game with a team-high 28 points.
The Pride enlisted a few of its best defenders like Deonte Sandifer and Richard Jacobson to try and lock him down. Costa was employed to defend him at times in the second half as well and did a solid job of keeping him at bay.
“I think it was pretty clear that coach wanted me to step up and play Mikey (Pettway),” said Costa.” Honestly, I was very fortunate. Coming in, I don’t think that defense was my best talent but, if coach wants me in there for defense, I’ll play defense. I’ll come out there and lockdown. And then it comes down to the mindset, because Mikey’s obviously a great player.”
The team didn’t exactly turn things around to start the second half. With shots reluctant to fall, Ross did all he could to take over the scoring, but the Golden Bears were still highly efficient on the other end.
Then, midway through the second half, Ross made a few tough layups and the team got a few defensive stops thanks to blocks from Heath Post and Elijah Moreno-Winston. From there, the momentum shifted.
“It’s all just energy,” said Ross on the team’s change in play. “Your other teammates feed off of it. It’s contagious. I think I got a few easy buckets halfway through. But we came out flat to start the second half. That is on us. We will fix it. It is still early on. But energy-wise it was just talking and communicating. The little things.”
Springfield hit a game-altering speed bump with 7:53 to go in the game when Ross picked up his fourth foul. After the foul was committed he was sent to the bench. At the time, Springfield trailed 70-68.
For the next few minutes of gametime, the team was going to need significant offense from anyone besides Ross. The Pride hung tight for the next few minutes with solid defense, but things opened up at the 4:30 mark when Costa hit a wide-open three-pointer to jump in front 82-79. On the following play, Post came up with a block to further fuel the team. At the 3:15 mark, Post hit a three-pointer at the top of the key to up the Pride’s lead to 86-82. Costa was fouled a few possessions later while taking a three-pointer and made all three free throws to give Springfield the cushion it needed.
Ross wasn’t comfortable sitting on the bench with the game in the balance, but he is proud of how some the team’s younger guys came through in big moments during the stretch.
“A lot of nerves,” said Ross on what he was feeling while watching the game on the bench. “But it was great to see a young group with veteran leadership. Guys like Daryl stepped up and made plays without hesitation. That gives me confidence down the stretch in the future that these guys are capable and I can trust them. Honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened to us in some ways.”
Last year, Andy McNulty was the team’s true floor general for most of the season. Now, with McNulty graduated, Ross had taken on the role of floor general and point guard offensively.
“It’s been fine. I have more responsibility,” said Ross on the transition. “I have to facilitate and remember that I am in charge of getting Cam Earle shots and getting guys easy buckets. Trey at one point said ‘run this play’ — we ran it and they left him so wide open in the corner he could have eaten a hot dog before he shot it. It is something else I am learning to do. I asked for the responsibility. I want it. I am just excited that I am going to have the ball in my hands.”
Although Brock is happy that the team was able to grind out the win, he realizes that there is plenty the group can work on moving forward into their game against Keene State on Tuesday.
“We have to do a better job of screening and cutting,” said Brock. “Just the relationship stuff that goes on between two to three players. We just have to work on it. We have to get smoother. We had guys in the wrong spots sometimes. Jake (Ross) had a downscreen he missed one time. Just things in the heat of the battle they forget. We just have to get that down.”