Thirteen ties and nine lead changes made for a back-and-forth competition between no. 4 Springfield College and no. 5 Emerson in the quarterfinal of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament.
Down by nine—their largest deficit of the contest—with 15 minutes left to play, the Lions mounted a 13-to-2 run in eight minutes to take their first lead of the second half. They held off the Pride the rest of the way to win not only their first NEWMAC playoff game, but the college’s athletic program’s first, too, 72-63.
“The gameplan was let our players play,” head coach Bill Curley said. “They knew what we had to do, and we, [the coaches], just stayed out of their way.”
Emerson came into this matchup having won both meetings against Springfield in the regular season. But, as the saying goes, it’s hard to beat a team three times.
“It was definitely on our minds when the game started but once it started we began focusing on making baskets and stopping the other team,” Curley said.
While the score remained close in the opening minutes, Springfield took advantage of an over-aggressive Emerson squad, reaching the one-and-one in the first eight minutes and nailing six of their first 14 points from the line. They would later go on a 7-0 run and lead by nine with seven-and-a-half left in the first half.
“We don’t worry about the score until the end of the game and our guys did a great job not playing the clock,” Curley said. “We were getting good looks and they just weren’t going in but that’s basketball, and I think guys like [Michael] Thorpe thought, ‘Okay they’ve had their run, let’s make ours.’”
Senior forward Brian Hurley then scored six of the Lions’ next eight, followed by a jumper and 3-pointer by senior guard Tyson Hallowell to tie the game at 27 apiece.
The match was knotted up, 33-33, at halftime.
“It’s not a 20-minute game, it’s not a 10-minute game,” Curley said. “It’s 40 minutes and you go to play until that last horn goes off.”
The Pride came out of the gates hot in the second half, scoring 13 in the first five minutes, and the Lions again found themselves down by nine. But with the help of freshman guard Geoffrey Gray, they battled their way back to tie it at 48.
Six more lead changes would ensue until senior guard Michael Thorpe, a Beacon correspondent, with his squad down 58-57, put in eight points in the final 3:27. Thorpe’s teammates would take care of the rest as Emerson won by a nine-point margin.
“Thorpe really kicked it into high gear,” senior center Austin Pinckney said. “He had two and-ones in a row and really started clicking on all cylinders.”
Thorpe finished the night with a team-high 14, while senior center Austin Pinckney earned 11 on 5-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes for Emerson, who shot 50 percent from the field.
“Our whole mindset heading into the game was that it’s like a whole new season,” Pinckney said. “Everybody’s zero and zero.”
Twenty of Springfield’s (11-15) points came by the way of the free throw line, and they were led by guard and graduate student Josh Altman, who scored a game-high 16.
The victory is the first postseason win by any of the Lions’ varsity programs in their third year in the NEWMAC.
“Our guys have been working hard since they got back on campus in September with running hills on their own and getting in the weight room,” Curley said. “I think it’s the most committed they’ve been since I’ve been here and it’s good to see them have some success and I think this is what the payoff is.”
Emerson (11-15, 6-9) will travel to no. 1 Babson College (19-5, 13-1) in the semifinals on Saturday at noon. The Beavers won both of their meetings 80-63 on Jan. 6, and 79-53 on Jan. 30.