With the snow piled as high as 12 feet around the Springfield College campus due to winter storm Nemo, undefeated WPI trekked into Blake Arena Sunday afternoon in hopes of protecting their No. 2 national ranking and 22-0 record. Last time the Engineers came to Springfield, Pride point guard Sean Martin converted a game-winning layup in overtime to win the game.
The maroon colored sea of fans for Springfield helped to fluster WPI as senior guard Alex Berthiaume poured in 20 points to lead Springfield to a 66-60 win and hand WPI their first loss this season.
Although Berthiaume was the leading scorer for he Pride, Head Coach Charlie Brock was looking for someone else to step up and lighten the scoring load for Berthiaume with second-leading scorer Jordan Rote sidelined with a right shoulder injury. Sophomore forward, Nick Sienkiewicz and fellow senior guard Matt Pascuzzo did exactly what Coach Brock was hoping for with Sienkiewicz having his season-best performance by scoring 19 points and pulling down five rebounds, while Pascuzzo was clutch down the stretch as he knocked down four crucial free-throws to seal the victory in the closing minutes.
“Scooz [Pascuzzo] was huge. Sienkiewicz had a great game, he was just awesome,” proclaimed Brock. “And because everyone just did their job, we were able to overcome Rote’s absence and get this big win.”
WPI’s leading scorer, Marco Coppola, finished with a game-high 24 points, but was the only one finding success shooting the ball. The Engineers shot a dismal 34.5 percent from the field which is far below their season average of 46.3 percent.
Coppola helped rally WPI to a four point lead over Springfield with just 3:29 left in the game, but the shooting woes continued to haunt Head Coach, Chris Bartley’s team.
“No shame in losing to Springfield; they have a very good team,” explained Coach Bartley. “They are loaded with seniors that stepped up in key moments, so I give them the credit.”
Springfield jumped out of the gates with confidence as they maintained a lead over WPI throughout the majority of the first half. The Pride’s defense was the anchor to their success holding WPI to just 11 points with 8:48 left to play in the first half. After a string of jump shots put together by Berthiaume and Sienkiewicz, Springfield took the largest lead of the night, 30-21.
It wasn’t too long before WPI had a run of their own sparked by sophomore forward, Domenick Mastascusa who hit back-to-back three-pointers. This small spark from Mastascusa shrunk the lead and inspired the Engineers to take the momentum into halftime as Coppola hit a fall-away jumper from the baseline that withered the Springfield lead to just two at 33-31.
Five minutes into the second half, Pascuzzo put his stamp on the game when he made a dazzling mid-range jumper that got the crowd on their feet. As he was isolated at the top of the key, he took his man off the dribble by creating separation with a through the legs step-back move which he then followed with a silky smooth shot. As the ball went through the net and Springfield took a seven point lead, the crowd roared with excitement in belief that they could witness WPI’s first loss.
With 2:35 left to play in regulation the score was tied, 55-55. Everything began to look like a repeat of last year’s contest which went into overtime. Unfortunately for the fans, overtime wasn’t in the cards, butfortunately for Springfield the result was the same.
As it came down to the wire, The Pride relied on phenomenal free-throw shooting to put the game away. Going 11-14 in the last 2:35 of the game from the free-throw line, Pascuzzo, Berthiaume, and Martin put the game away.
“Over the past two years we’ve developed a rivalry with WPI and had some really exciting games with them,” Berthiaume said. “Tonight, guys like Nick and Scooz had great games, and showed how big of an impact they can make.”
Pascuzzo had no shame in embracing the back-up point guard position; bringing energy and tough on-ball defense for The Pride. Although he only scored nine points in the contest, his intangibles are invaluable to the team, and he knows that.
“I feel great,” said Pascuzzo. “I knew I had to step up when we got into foul trouble and I just went in and tried to create for my teammates.”
The loss doesn’t hurt WPI too badly, as they still hold the top spot in the NEWMAC standings with a 9-1 record. Springfield on the other hand, obtains the much needed win amidst losing three games in the past four tries as they move to 7-3 in conference play.
Springfield looks to finish their conference schedule strong as they play in their last home game this Wednesday night against Clark University at 5:30 PM.