Men’s basketball receives at-large-bid and a chance at tournament play

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Photo: Kayla Buck

WPI held the Lions to just 50 points in the NEWMAC Finals on Saturday, Feb 26.

By Tyler Foy, Sports Editor

Emerson’s men’s basketball team lost to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the NEWMAC finals 70-54 on Feb. 26, but the Lions’ season isn’t over. 

After losing to WPI, Emerson was selected to carry on with its season in the NCAA Division III tournament.  

Senior center Jarred Houston said after the loss to WPI he felt confident about going to the dance.

“I’m in pretty good spirits,” Houston said. “I think we did enough to be able to get it done…I like our chances.”

The team watched the NCAA live stream to see the bracket filled in real time. After 26 minutes, Emerson was announced in a matchup against the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth at Nazareth College on Friday, Mar. 4. Head Coach Bill Curley said the tournament opportunity was gratifying after all the extra hours spent practicing.

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“We’re very excited to be there,” Curley said. “Our kids have battled, they’ve sacrificed, they paid the price starting in September…It was very rewarding for us to be able to get that at-large bid. They only have 20 at-large bids in the whole country and we were able to get one of those.”

Prior to the draw, the Lions lost to WPI in a second-half catastrophe. Emerson went 0-2 against WPI in the regular season but beat the Engineers in the 2019 NEWMAC Finals. Much has changed on both sides of the court, but three starters on the Lions—seniors Trevor McLean, Zach Waterhouse, and Jarred Houston— also started in the Lions’ 2019 victory.  

Although the Lions lost to the Engineers twice, they felt confident in their ability to edge them out this time. Emerson’s overtime win against Babson College— another team they lost both regular-season matchups to— in the semifinals contributed to this confidence.

“This one is definitely going to propel us,” sophomore guard Trevor Arico said after the win against Babson. “I know coach [Curley] is going to do his thing tomorrow, whether it’s watching a film or going through other stuff to prepare us.”

The Lions were without their two best scorers against WPI. Senior guard Nate Martin scored 24 points in the first encounter on Jan. 15, and junior guard Max Davis scored 22 in the loss on Feb. 2 due to injury. Senior center Jarred Houston said the team’s bench has been one of the Lions’ largest strengths all season.

“One of my biggest compliments of our team this year has been how deep we are from guys that play a lot and guys that don’t play as much,” Houston said. “Seeing them put everything in all the hard work and seeing a payoff kind of did give us I think that extra motivation to get it done.”

The beginning of the game was a sparring match as both teams struggled to score. Two minutes into the game, Waterhouse scored Emerson’s first points on a field goal that WPI returned two minutes later. Houston blocked a shot out of bounds which led to a media timeout, and the Lions’ offense got into motion after the break.

A three from McLean gave the Lions the lead, but it wouldn’t last long as the Engineers made one of their own to tie it. Houston and Waterhouse combined for two points each pushing the score to 9-5. Emerson’s largest lead of the first half came off a field goal from junior guard James Beckwith after back-and-forth play increasing the Lions’ lead to 14-7. 

Photo: Kayla Buck
Junior guard James Beckwith shooting a jump shot against WPI.

The Engineers eventually caught up, knotting the game at 24 on a dunk from John Adams. Strong defensive play made it difficult for either team to find a basket, but Adams fouled Houston, sending him to the free-throw line. Houston sank the first and missed the second, which Waterhouse rebounded and dished to McLean for a corner three.

WPI scored a jump shot to come within two. After missed three-pointers from both teams, the first half came to a close with Emerson leading 28-26.

The second half started with a steal by WPI who got fouled on a drive to the basket. The Engineers tied the game on free throws and when the Lions pushed down the court, McLean was fouled and injured. To this point, McLean was a critical shooter in the game and was second on the team in points.

“It definitely hurt us and especially when you’re already down Max and Nate Martin,” Curley said. “You’re basically losing three starters at that point and you’re just trying to make do and the kids really just everything on the court.

Curley also said he expects to have McLean and Davis back for the match-up against UMass Dartmouth.

After a missed jump shot from Emerson and a transition bucket from WPI, the Engineers found their first lead of the game. A couple of plays later, WPI scored again to make it 32-28. In an attempt to strategize, Curley called a timeout.

DiCenzo scored a layup following the restart of play, but the Engineers scored another nine points to gain the largest lead of the night, 41-30. WPI continued to pile onto the lead until Waterhouse sank a layup to stop the bleeding. 

WPI’s 16-2 run was enough to off-put the Lions’ offense for the remainder of the second half. The closest Emerson got to reclaiming the lead was a nine-point deficit. Houston said the defensive prowess of the Engineers was on full display.

“They play really tough,” he said. “They play really aggressive and they’re really good individual defenders, but they play well together. We had a couple of turnovers to start the second half and when you get into battles with defensive teams like WPI I think those feel a lot bigger because of how low-scoring the games are.”

Houston produced his 20th double-double of the year with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Between the two playoff games, Houston logged all but one minute of play. He said the scale of the game influenced him to perform. 

“You definitely feel it a little bit towards the end of the game,” he said. “It’s those situations, the biggest game of the year, I would do anything for my guys. If they needed 40 more minutes, I would have played 40 more minutes.”