Men’s basketball defeats WPI behind Davis’s 31 points

Senior+guard+Max+Davis+scored+a+season-high+31+points+in+the+Lions+win.+

Arthur Mansavage

Senior guard Max Davis scored a season-high 31 points in the Lions’ win.

By Jordan Pagkalinawan

WPI and Emerson, sitting at No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference respectively, have built a storied history in recent years—Emerson beat WPI in the 2019 conference championship game while WPI was crowned champions on the same stage last season.

The fired up Lions won the opening tip in their home court and jumped out to a 12-4 lead behind two threes from senior guard Max Davis. The Engineers were quick to respond, taking the lead with a 10-0 run. A dunk from graduate center Jarred Houston briefly tied the game at 14, but WPI took the lead off a three-pointer with 10:13 left on the clock, and continued to lead by as many as five points throughout the half. The Engineers led at the break, 30-28.

Davis and Houston had 12 and 10 points in the first half, respectively. The Lions pulled down 12 defensive rebounds and were a perfect 10-10 from the stripe in the first 20 minutes.

Head Coach Bill Curley said the team played an excellent opening half.

“We broke a few assignments, but our energy level was tremendous,” Curley said. “The guys that were in the game were competing—we didn’t have any [designated hitters] out there tonight. We had all guys moving as one for the first time all season.”

The Lions and Engineers traded buckets to open the second half. Davis sank his third three of the game, cutting the lead to one with 15:32 remaining, but WPI continued to glide to the glass with layups. Davis and the Engineers would go back-and-forth on buckets, and the Lions managed to regain the lead again with 12 minutes left in the game.

Davis buried another jumper for his 26th point of the evening with nine minutes remaining before stealing graduate guard Nate Martin’s pass intended for first-year point guard Brandon McNamara, nailing another jumper with 8:12 to go. The Lions held a 56-52 advantage when Davis buried his fifth three of the evening with 6:20 on the clock. 

Emerson extended its lead to nine off Martin’s free-throws at the 4:06 mark before WPI went on a 9-2 run to make it a two-point game, 63-61, with 1:39 left, forcing Curley to call a timeout and regroup his players.

“It’s not over until the end,” Curley said. “Our guys did a great job of interchanging parts and finding a mismatch they were comfortable with.”

Following an Emerson timeout, Martin drained two free-throws to extend the lead to 65-61. Graduate guard Sean Coman’s dagger triple from the left wing gave the Lions a seven-point advantage with 38 seconds left. Even with three WPI free throws after a foul called on McNamara, the Lions managed to close it out with free throws from Martin and McNamara—ending the evening with a tight 71-66 victory over a tough rival.

McNamara has been well-acquainted with the Lions’ opponent thanks to his brother, Colin, who played for WPI and faced Emerson in both title games.

“I’ve jumped in, and I’ve flipped sides for sure,” he said. “My family has as well, but [the rivalry] is real. Going into the season, [we thought] WPI is going to be a team we want to beat, and they probably thought the same.”

Houston was not phased by the rivalry matchup. He, like the rest of the roster, is more focused on achieving team goals.

“We just want to do everything we can to get tied up for that #1 spot in the conference,” Houston said.

Following the victory, Curley emphasized the importance of collective effort on both ends of the floor.

“They [worked] together, and they work to make each other better, and it’s a fun game when they do that,” he said. “Is it going to be pretty? Not all the time. But they work to make each other better, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Curley was also impressed by Davis’s red-hot performance—he finished the game with a season-high 31 points and five three-pointers. He noted that the 6’5” guard does many things well, but his best attribute on display last night was his unselfishness.

“He wasn’t trying to play one on five, he played five on five,” Curley said. “He made his team better and they made him better. I think that was his best game as a Lion.”

Davis said the key to his performance was getting his teammates open so they would return the favor.

“They came prepared, and that made it a lot easier for me,” he said. “It was a great team win overall, and I couldn’t do it without them.”

As the season winds down, Davis believes their win was an example of the results from playing together as one.

“When we rely on each other and put each other in a situation to succeed, we open it up for one another,” Davis added, “We just keep that in mind—locking in on defense, communicating—there’s no team in the country that can stop us.”