By Danny Priest
On Wednesday night in Blake Arena, Jake Ross made history for the Springfield College Pride again.
The senior from Northampton broke a 50-year old school record for most points scored in a single game dropping 55 points in a 105-99 win over NEWMAC opponent Coast Guard.
Despite Ross’s efforts, the Pride needed two overtime periods to beat a Coast Guard squad that was under .500 on the season and that was after they had blown a 20-point lead in the game.
Needless to say, neither Ross nor head Coach Charlie Brock were pleased with the team’s efforts. That only put more emphasis on their Saturday afternoon matchup with NEWMAC rival Emerson in Blake Arena.
In the team’s last two matchups, the Lions beat the Pride by four (the Pride’s only conference loss this season) and the season before that they eliminated the Pride in the NEWMAC Championship Semifinal.
Springfield was out for revenge and they came out of the gates playing hard and continued that until the final horn sounded on a hard earned 86-76 victory on their home court.
The theme of the game for the Pride was energy. They played a solid first half to build up a 13-point lead and they kept their foot on the gas after the halftime break.
Their second half performance was strong all-around, and one particularly strong run came during the 16 minute mark. Jake Ross started things off with a tough three-pointer from the wing. One play later he dished to Daryl Costa who made a corner three.
Immediately after his three, Costa got a steal and a lay-in, and then Trey Witter capped off the 11-2 run with a three from the wing to run the lead up to 18. Emerson continued to battle, but in the end the Pride had enough to secure the win.
Those types of runs were key to allowing the Pride to answer every time the Lions threatened to make the game close.
Springfield needed it as Emerson refused to go away. The Lions cut the lead down to as slim as four with under two minutes to play, but the Pride were still able to find a way to win.
“We have a very resilient team. When we play together, I feel like we’re nearly unbeatable, we’re a very good team,” forward Harper Niven said after the game. “When we just stick together, we can persevere through anything, it feels like we’ve been down 20 with eight minutes left and we’ve been up 20 with eight minutes left and we find a way to win usually.”
Ross didn’t repeat his performance of 55 points, but he played smart and was super-efficient finishing the game with 29 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. More importantly, Ross did it on 8/14 shooting from the field and ⅗ from deep.
That included a first half in which Ross shot 6-10, grabbed 12 boards (3 offensive), and blocked two shots.
The Pride did not shoot the ball well on Saturday finishing the game just 6-23 from deep, but a big factor of them being able to come out on top was how they defended on the other end.
They limited Emerson to just 5 of 16 shooting from deep and overall for the game they held them at just 43.8 percent shooting.
“Well, I think we played well defensively. I wouldn’t say that anything was exceptional offensively, but defensively I thought we’ve been talking about a couple of things that we felt we needed to improve on and one of them statistically is the opposition’s three point field goal percentage,” Coach Charlie Brock said after the game.
“First half we did a great job, second half maybe not quite as good, but we were trying to stop the inside play as well.”
A big part of Springfield being able to get the win was strong contributions across the team from the starter’s to the bench.
Heath Post had his usual day of work with 13 points and nine rebounds on an efficient 5/8 shooting performance. More importantly than his offense however was the job he did on the defensive side of the floor.
Post did a nice job in the post (no pun intended) guarding Emerson’s six-foot-ten inch big man Jarred Houston. In the first half Houston accumulated only six points on 3-7 shooting and was a -12.
Houston picked things up a bit in the second half, but the Pride still did a tremendous job of limiting the big. Much of the work came with Post as the primary defender, but Niven and Ross did a nice job helping out as well.
“Just trying to stay in front of him,” Niven said of how he and the Pride limited Houston. “Not let him get the ball in the post and dive off him when he gets the ball at the elbow or elbow extended. Just really not letting him get too many touches down low, that was the plan.”
Brock echoed the same praise of limiting Houston while also containing the perimeter.
“They’re good, that kid’s (Houston) very good, he’s physical, his footwork is excellent, but it was enough where we could nullify him somewhat and keep from giving them open looks on the perimeter getting threes.”
Trey Witter continued to play great basketball off the bench as the team’s unofficial sixth man and he put up 13 points and five boards in 23 minutes of work.
Deonte Sandifer and Niven both came off the bench and gave the Pride nice minutes on both ends of the floor. Neither one of their stat lines jump off the page (Sandifer with four points and a steal; Niven with five points and two boards) but their toughness, energy, and activity helped the Pride maintain their intensity all game long.
Sandifer has been super active on defense today. Big time energy off the Springfield bench.
— Danny Priest (@dpriest3) February 8, 2020
Brock also made a wise decision and started Trey Witter in the second half. This meant Daryl Costa came off the bench, and he responded knocking down some shots and getting a few steals in his second half run.
“I think they both (Niven and Sandifer) played their role extremely well and quite frankly, we flipped it going into the second half and Daryl came off the bench and he gave us a nice lift coming off the bench,” Brock said of the bench play.
“Everybody wants to start, but the truth is they want to win more. In that case Daryl came off the bench and gave us a good spark in the first half, Trey came off the bench and gave us a good spark, and Deonte, we really depend on him for defense and he’s always there for us,” Brock added.
In a game that featured a ton of fouls on both ends (50 combined), the Pride needed to make a lot of free throws late to put the game away. Overall, they finished shooting 28/39 from the stripe.
Their mark at the line wasn’t perfect, but in the end they did enough to get by and knocked shots down when they mattered most.
Springfield knew coming in that this was a game they needed to get and they did just that. They answered the call with their attitude, effort, and execution to move themselves to 18-3 and stay on top of the NEWMAC at 9-1 on the season.
The Pride return to action on Wednesday when they travel cross state to take on Wheaton in a road clash. Wheaton is 0-9 this season in conference play, but no road win comes easy in the NEWMAC.
The Pride will look to push their winning streak to seven straight against the Lyon’s on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Photos Courtesy of Joe Arruda