By Danny Priest
SPRINGFIELD – When first year guard Noah Cummings caught the ball in the corner on one of the first possessions of Springfield College’s first round NCAA DIII Tournament matchup against SUNY Canton, the Roos elected to sit back and leave him wide open.
The Blake Arena crowd, which was decked out in white and filled to capacity, clamored for Cummings to let it fly. He obliged, and found nothing but net as the crowd roared.
The bucket gave Springfield the game’s first points and a 3-0 lead.
Next time down, the ball found Heath Post. As he rose into his shot, the crowd began to buzz again. The building knew what was coming.
Bottom of the net. 6-0 lead.
One possession later, the ball swung around the perimeter and found Collin Lindsay. The sweet shooting sophomore rose up, and again the energy built. The result was inevitable.
Bottom of the net. 9-0 lead.
Jake Ross stole the ball on the next defensive possession, feed the ball up the court to Daryl Costa, and he laid it in.
11-0 lead. SUNY Head Coach Shiva Senthil signaled for a timeout as Blake Arena morphed into a frenzy.
The run to start the game was a foreshadowing of what was to come as Springfield easily defeated SUNY Canton 74-49 to advance to round two of tournament play where they will take on Hobart College on Saturday.
All season long, the story of the Pride’s campaign has been the play of seniors Jake Ross and Heath Post. Rightfully so, as both were named to the NEWMAC Men’s Basketball All-Conference First Team.
Ross shattered multiple school records along the way and Post has been as good as any other “number two” in the country.
Yet on Friday night, it was the rest of the team who stood out. Much like they’ve done all year, the supporting cast answered the bell when called upon.
“I thought we played very unselfish basketball,” Coach Charlie Brock said following the win. “At the half, I believe 10 of 13 baskets we had assists and (overall) 17 assists on 28 baskets. It just shows that guys went to whatever was open, regardless of who it was, and (they) played very unselfishly.”
Sophomore Daryl Costa tied his career high of 13 points in the first half alone. He knocked down three, three-pointers in the process and kept the crowd roaring and the SUNY defense off-balance.
Costa, who dons the number 25, gave credit to Assistant Coach Sean Martin for giving him confidence before the game.
“I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me. Actually, Coach Martin, since we started warming up he said ‘It’s a 2-5 type of day,’ I kept going with that, it’s a 2-5 type of day. I just went out there and played basketball,” Costa said.
The sophomore went on to finish the game with a career high 15 points, and much like the rest of his teammates, he brought it on both ends of the court.
His scoring went along with Ross (16 points), Post (9 points), Robert Baum (8 points) and Trey Witter (7 points) to pace the Pride.
To build a 17-point halftime lead when Ross and Post combine for only seven first half points is a testament to the depth the Pride display, as well as their willingness to share the basketball.
Springfield’s had a lot of signature wins this season, but this one may have been their most complete team effort.
Post did not score a ton in the win, but he did grab 16 rebounds and also surpassed the 1,000 career rebound plateau in the process. In a season of milestones, Post became the first player in Springfield College history to reach that mark.
“It’s a great recognition, but I think all the credit goes to my teammates,” Post said. “They box out every possession, they work hard to get on the glass too. It’s a team effort, I don’t think rebounding goes to any single person. We just try to go chase them, but without that boxing out I can’t grab rebounds, so it’s definitely a testament to my teammates.”
Coach Brock cited Post’s accomplishment as a major milestone. “Heath’s been a great rebounder, and I think more than that, his total pride playing great defense has been evident since day one,” Brock said.
“Rebounding is a part of that, but I think it’s the overall desire on his part to be the best defensive player he can be to help the team. That makes a difference and that’s why he’s the first ever in the history of Springfield College to get 1,000 rebounds. It’s an epic, epic statistic,” Brock added.
Not to be forgotten, there was another game played prior to the Springfield-SUNY Canton tilt on Friday. At 5:30 p.m. the No. 17 ranked St. Joseph’s (Conn.) Blue Jays faced off against the Hobart College Statesmen.
Despite coming in as a perceived underdog, the Statesmen brought the fight to St. Joe’s and were able to take them down, 78-74 in a hard-fought matchup. Big time production from Dan Masino (17 points) and Tucker Lescoe (16 points) helped Hobart in the win.
Overall, NEWMAC teams other than Springfield went 0-3 during round one games on Friday. Babson fell to Ithaca in overtime by a score of 94-88, WPI lost to Yeshiva 102-78, and Coast Guard saw their Cinderella run stopped at the hands of Brockport, 92-86.
The Pride are now the lone remaining representative of the conference and Saturday against the Statesmen will be another tough test for a group that’s been through many this season.
Hobart will have momentum from their round one victory and they present a strong defense (62 points allowed per game) and a versatile mix of shooters and presence inside.
Springfield will need to be equal to the task right out of the gate on Saturday night if they wish to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
“When you win 20 games, and I’ve been doing this a long time, it’s hard to win, and it’s hard to keep winning, when they win 20 games, it’s not a fluke. Their execution is excellent,” Brock said of the Statesmen.
Saturday’s round two matchup is slated to tip off at 7:30 p.m. in Blake Arena.
Photos Courtesy of Joe Arruda and Danny Priest