The Springfield men’s basketball team has been waiting nearly a year for a chance to avenge its New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship title game loss from last year, 363 days to be exact. That opportunity has now returned.
Last February, the Pride were just one shot away from bringing home their first NEWMAC title since 2000, but eventually fell to then sixth-ranked WPI in overtime.
Springfield (18-6, 10-4) locked up a meeting in the NEWMAC Tournament with Babson Saturday afternoon as they took care of last place Coast Guard Academy Bears (5-20, 2-12) in front of an energetic crowd with a 83-60 victory.
“Right after that loss to WPI in the NEWMAC championship game last year we were ready,” senior Robbie Burke said. “Our goal from day one was to win the NEWMACs.”
The Pride made sure they entered the tournament on a high note, as they coasted to an easy win over the Bears in a game that was never really in doubt. With 11:18 to play in the second half and Springfield well ahead, senior Tim Swenson, perhaps playing in his final game in Blake Arena, received a beautiful dish from senior captain Nick Sienkiewicz and attempted a monster dunk, only it did not go in.
The failed dunk attempt drew a huge round of laughter from the crowd, but only after Swenson played it off with a smile of his own and stuck his tongue out. That’s the kind of afternoon it was for Springfield.
“It’s a good way to finish,” Springfield coach Charlie Brock said. “We definitely wanted to go into the playoffs next weekend on a high note.”
The Bears never gave themselves a chance to get in the game, shooting just 25 for 62 for 40.3% from the field. After winning the opening tip, the Bears first three possessions featured a pair of missed free throws, a missed field goal and a traveling violation. Not a recipe for success.
After going into halftime holding a slight 34-27 lead, the Pride took the wind out of the sails of Coast Guard, and prevented them from gaining any momentum. Springfield strung together three-pointer after three-pointer, fueling a 17-2 run that opened up the score to 52-30 just 6:03 into the second half. For the game, Springfield was 50% from beyond the arc, finishing 9 for18.
“They’re tough, they do not quit and they play hard,” Brock said.
Chants were calling out from the Springfield faithful in a manner in such only that they could understand. The afternoon for Coast Guard could easily be summed up by the look on the face of guard Ricky Rodriguez after he committed a technical foul. The grim, saggy expression that Rodriguez reflected perfectly described the way the game went for the Bears.
The Pride will now prepare to play Babson on Saturday, March 1 at WPI in Worcester, Mass., with the winner earning the right to the NEWMAC championship game. For Springfield, they are looking to advance to their third consecutive title appearance.
It will not be easy, as the Pride split with Babson earlier in the season, with each team winning on the road during the regular season.
“We’ll go back on the scouting report and see the things that they do well, and improve on the things we’re not doing as well as we would like,” Brock said.
The Pride honored seniors Swenson and Burke prior to the opening tip, as they played what could prove to be their final game in the place where basketball began.
It may have been the final game of the regular season for Springfield, but after working all year to get to the NEWMAC tournament, the season is really just beginning.