Springfield, Mass. - February 24, 2018 - The Springfield College men's basketball team dropped an 84-80 overtime decision to WPI in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) NEWMAC Championship Semifinals on Saturday afternoon in Blake Arena.
Playing as the top seed and host of the NEWMAC Championship for the first time in program history, Springfield fell to 18-8 with the setback. WPI, which was just the second team to defeat the Pride on its home court this season, improved to 16-11 and will play for the conference title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championship on Sunday at 1 pm.
Jake Ross (Northampton, Mass.) put together a herculian effort for the Pride as the sophomore played all 45 minutes and poured in a game-high 34 points to go along with 16 rebounds, four assists, and three steals as one of five players in double figures. Heath Post (Cheshire, Conn.) added 12 points and nine rebounds, Andy McNulty (West Springfield, Mass.) chipped in 12 points and five assists, Brandon Eckles (East Greenwich, R.I.) tallied 11 points, and Cam Earle (South Hadley, Mass.) cashed in 10 first-half points to go along with a game-high three blocks.
Springfield finished the game shooting 24-for-61 (39%), including just 11-for-31 from beyond the arc.
For WPI, Reid Walker (Lithia, Fla.) tied his career high with 23 points to go along with seven rebounds, while Chris Rodgers (Franklin, Mass.) stuff his stat line with 14 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. Kahleb Downing (Middletown, Conn.) was tremendous off the bench, producing 13 points for the visitors, which finished teh game shooting 33-for-64 (52%). The Engineers bench outscored Springfield, 33-1, in the victory.
Springfield jumped out to a 5-0 lead a little over a minute into the contest, all on points from Earle, before the Engineers answered back with 10-straight points, capped off by a corner triple by Walker at the 14:58 mark. After a baby hook in the paint by Garrett Stephensen (Townson, Mass.) gave the visitors a 14-7 cushion, Springfield responded with a 13-4 surge, as a triple from the left wing by Ross put the hosts on top 20-16. A trifecta from Dakota Wheeler (Easthampton, Mass.) allowed WPI to regain a 22-20 lead, only to have Ross net seven-straight points for the 27-22 lead with under eight to go. As they did the entire first half, WPI answered right back as a three-pointer from Downing, which finished off a 6-0 surge. The teams would then trade buckets before WPI score the final four points of the half to take a 37-35 advantage into the break. WPI shot 15-for-30 in the opening 20 minutes, with Walker tallying a team-best 12 points. Springfield struggled from the field, going 11-for-31 (35.5%), including 6-of-17 from deep, with Ross and Earle registering 25 of the Pride's 35 points.
After McNulty cashed in on a triple from the right wing to make it a 42-40 contest, WPI rattled off six-straight points to earn its largest lead of the afternoon, 48-40, following two freebies from Jake Wisniewski (West Brookfield, Mass.) at 16:02 . A putback by Wisniewski pushed WPI on top, 55-47, at the 12:15 mark before Springfield produced a 15-4 push, with McNulty netting another triple to give the hosts a 63-59 lead with 7:51 to play. The Pride would own a 71-68 advantage with just 44 seconds remaining after Post flushed a a dunk along the baseline, but Rodgers answered with a jumper in the paint to make it a one-point game with 26 seconds remaining. After Springfield hit just 1-of-2 from the line, Rodgers came down and coverted a floater with 12 seconds remaining to knot the score at 72. Springfield was unable to get a shot off following a pair of timeouts as the game went into overtime.
It was Springfield that grabbed early control of the extra session, as two free throws from Ross put the hosts ahead, 78-74 with 3:13 remaining. WPI would answer with five-straight, including a huge three-pointer from Downing as the shot clock expired with 1:07 on the clock. Ross again converted a pair from the line to give Springfield their final lead of the day, an 80-79 edge with 53 second remaining, before Downing again pulled up for a clutch mid-range jumper to give the Engineers the lead for good. Springfield would turn the ball over on their next two possessions and WPI made 3-of-4 from the line to seal the win.