As the final buzzer sounded and the Pride walked through the hand shake line with WPI, Engineer coaches and players smiled from ear to ear and fist pumped in celebration. They had just defeated the No. 1 seed in the NEWMAC tournament. As this was happening, the Babson Beavers, like a haunting shadow, stood in the corner of the gym in anticipation of their semifinal game with hidden smiles and subdued happiness at Springfield’s expense. Their enemy had been vanquished, and they got to watch.
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.
The Pride fell to WPI, 84-80, in overtime of the NEWMAC semifinals on Saturday. Jake Ross had 34 points and 16 rebounds for Springfield. Heath Post had 12 points and nine rebounds. Reid Walker had a season-high 23 points for the Engineers.
“The overall thing was that defensively they played outstanding,” said Springfield head coach Charlie Brock. “They shot the lights out. There are a whole bunch of little things you can pinpoint, but overall, we did not defend them well at all. We put up 80 points. We should be able to win the game.”
In the first couple minutes of the game, momentum was on the Engineers side. WPI went on a 14-7 run to start the matchup. But, just as quickly as the Pride fell into the early deficit, they came out of it quicker. After a 3-pointer from Cam Earle, Brandon Eckles, and Jake Ross, Springfield was back in the thick of it. By the end of the sequence, the Pride compiled a 10-0 run to pick up a 17-14 lead. Two offensive rebounds from Ben Diamond were substantial in fueling Springfield during the run.
As WPI settled in, they started locking down defensively. As the defense was playing well, the Engineer’s Reid Walker was causing Springfield all kinds of problems. He had 12 points in the first half.
Springfield needed a good start to the second half to seize the momentum. That isn’t exactly what happened. WPI started the half with an 11-5 run to give themselves a 48-40 lead.
The Pride continued to pound away on the interior. The team consistently got two points on the board, but couldn’t make a stop on the other end to seize the momentum.
That’s when Andy McNulty comes in.
McNulty, who didn’t score a point in the first half, came through with back to back 3-pointers to close the gap to 57-53. After two layups from Ross, the game was tied with 9:41 to go in regulation.
The game was especially close because of the Engineer’s ineptitude at the free throw line. At one point in the second half, WPI was 4-11 from the free throw line.
Just as the Engineers locked up defensively at the end of the first half, the Pride locked down defensively halfway through the second half and kept WPI scoreless between the 11:45 and 8:30 mark. During the drought, Springfield compiled a 10-0 run to put themselves ahead, 60-57.
Just as every close game does, the end of regulation came down to free throws. Unlike their performance at the line earlier in the game, the Engineers made shots at the line when it mattered most, as did the Pride.
In the waning seconds of regulation, Springfield possessed the ball. Ross inbounded the ball to Post, then Post passed it back to Ross at the top of the key. Ross drove into the paint and picked up two defenders. As Ross picked up the extra defender, he attempted to drop the ball off to Post on the opposite block, but the Engineer’s Aaron Todd got a piece of the ball and knocked it out of bounds with a fraction of a second to go. Springfield tried to throw up a last second lob to Post for the win off the inbound, but he couldn’t get a good hand on it.
In overtime, the Pride’s issues fighting through screens became more visible. The Engineer’s big men did a excellent job of setting screens and rolling when necessary. In the process, Springfield started to get fatigued.
Springfield’s last gasp came with 23 seconds remaining in the period. The Pride trailed, 83-80, and McNulty got the ball in the corner. As he dribbled in the corner, he picked up his dribble and got covered by the Engineer’s Chris Rodgers. His defense forced McNulty to make a tight pass into the paint that was promptly intercepted with seven seconds remaining. Springfield fouled, WPI made both of their free throws, and that was it.
Brock is proud of what his seniors (McNulty, Eckles, and Diamond) have done for the program this year and in years past.
“They have definitely put a stamp on it,” said Brock regarding the seniors impact on the program. “To win a regular season NEWMAC championship is something that can’t be taken away. It is a tremendous achievement and it is a body of work .They definitely put their stamp on that and it’s something we haven’t done, so that’s a distinction.”
The Pride have an outside chance of making the Division III NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. The selection takes place on Monday.