Sitting in the middle of the pack with the final month of the regular season underway, both Emerson’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be left biting their nails as results stream in from across the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference over the next two weeks.
On the men’s side, five of the eight conference teams will qualify to advance. Seven women’s clubs will move on from a pool of 11.
Men fighting to move on
The men’s squad, under the direction of head coach Bill Curley, gave their season a considerable jolt with a 56-53 win over Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Feb. 3. WPI had previously defeated the Lions (9-13, 4-7) in mid-January on their home court.
To Curley, the win indicated his club’s ability to hang with any opponent—the Engineers (17-5, 7-4) were ranked 19th among Division III programs in the country when Emerson picked up the road victory.
“We’ve been in just about every game this year,” Curley said. “We’re trying to mix young guys with old guys and it’s a tough league. Our plan was just get better as the season goes on, so hopefully we’re peaking by the right time. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re in a good position right now.”
One thing in need of a tune up—the Lions’ free throw shooting. Collectively, players have been successful on 66.2 percent of attempts, worst in the NEWMAC. Curley said he finds that in most tight contests, strong shooting from the line can be part of a winning recipe.
“It’s the little details,” Curley said. “It’s not necessarily the last minute of the game that you point to, you point to the free throws, or the careless turnover at the beginning of the game. The only ones people really remember are at the end of the game, but if everyone cleans up their act when they get opportunities, we’ll be alright.”
The team also discarded of conference opponents Springfield College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology with successive upsets on Jan. 23 and Jan. 27 before beating Clark University in a thrilling see-saw affair on Saturday, 67-65. Last night, they fell to the United States Coast Guard Academy, 84-76, ending a two game winning streak.
Locked in a tight battle for one of the final postseason berths in the NEWMAC, the Lions will need to maintain their strong play in the final weeks to clinch a trip. Looming on the schedule: three conference meetings—against Springfield and Wheaton College on the road, then MIT at home.
The rematch with Wheaton will give Emerson a chance to avenge for a 64-61 defeat at the hands of the Lyons at home on Jan. 20.
Senior center Austin Pinckney, who played a team-high 36 minutes in the loss and pulled in 22 boards, said he tries not to alter his approach ahead of big matchups.
“You try to keep the same routine, just keep the high intensity,” Pinckney, a visual and media arts major, said. “With every game, anything could happen.”
Women trying to maintain position of strength
Emerson’s women’s team has less ground to make up—and more to stand—as they embark on their final series of games. Having already won five NEWMAC contests, the Lions (10-12, 5-8) will look to get back in the win column following a 72-66 loss to Wheaton last night.
While capping off a strong year with four other teams in the rear-view mirror isn’t stress-free, head coach Bill Gould said he’s told his players to focus on the scoreboard rather than the standings.
“We know where we are,” Gould said. “These kids are savvy; they know what’s going on, but we can’t focus on that. We have to play every game and just try to do the best we can in that game.”
One team that’s right in the thick of things: Smith College. The Lions suffered a 61-53 loss in their Jan. 12 road matchup with the Pioneers, marking their fourth loss in four games following the season-ending back injury of captain and junior guard Emily Cameron.
Now preparing to face Smith again in a key home matchup Saturday, Gould said Cameron’s teammates have stepped up in her absence.
“You hate to see anybody hurt and not do well, or, for whatever reason, not be with the team down the stretch, but if that’s what happens, then it provides opportunity,” Gould said. “You hope that young kids are eager to take that opportunity as opposed to nervous.”
Gould said freshmen Charlie Boyle and Natalie Busch, a Beacon correspondent, have been instrumental, providing key minutes and production. Gould said Boyle’s presence in the paint gives the Lions a boost but that she must keep a level head as the season concludes.
“Her biggest thing is learning how to deal with that kind of play, and learning how to play with fouls, and learning how to prevent some silly fouls,” Gould said.
Boyle is third on the Lions with 4.1 rebounds per game, but, as a unit, Emerson ranks in the bottom half of the NEWMAC in both offensive and defensive boards per matchup. Gould said he’s still working with his players to address the deficiency, one he believes is correctable.
“We need to do better, as a team, rebounding,” Gould said. “Anybody can get a defensive rebound. It’s the securing of the ball as opposed to a physical stature issue.”
Perhaps the most daunting challenge faced by either of Emerson’s basketball clubs is the women’s Feb. 20 showdown with WPI. The Engineers’ women’s team is 12-1 in the conference, and 20-2 overall.
Senior marketing communication major Kelsey Johnson, who scored a team-high 10 points in the Lions’ 54-48 Nov. 28 loss to WPI, said she expects high energy for the next matchup.
“When you’re playing a team like that, I think it just comes down to dedication, and realizing that, regardless of how you did throughout the season, it’s just going to feel so good to have a win like that,” Johnson said. “That’s the mentality you need to have.”