Worcester, Mass. - February 28, 2009 - The duo of Matt Cavalieri and Pat Crean proved to be the difference as the fourth-seeded Springfield College men's basketball team stunned top-seeded WPI, 61-46, in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Tournament Semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
Cavalieri netted a career-high 19 points and Crean tallied his first double double of the season with 13 points and career-best 15 rebounds as SC advanced to the NEWMAC Tournament title game for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.
"Today's game was a different world for us," said head coach Charlie Brock. "We came in loose with nothing to lose and we simply made enough good plays during the course of the game. You can always make a case on how difficult it is for one team to beat another three times in the course of a season. That was the case today."
This marks the first time that Springfield has defeated WPI since February 15, 2005, when SC topped the Engineers, 88-71, in Blake Arena. That season was the last time Springfield advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
The win gives Springfield a berth in the NEWMAC Championship Game, where they will take on second-seeded MIT.
WPI falls to 20-5 on the season, failing to make their fifth consecutive NEWMAC tournament final on its home floor. The Engineers will hope for their fifth straight bid to the NCAA Championships, which will be announced on Monday.
Springfield expanded upon a four-point halftime lead and were never seriously threatened in the second half by WPI, who struggled to find its shots as it attempted to erase the deficit. WPI would pull to within two at 32-30 on a NT Izuchi layup with 17:39 to play, but Springfield responded with an 11-5 spurt to gain control. The Crimson and Gray would never be able to tie or regain the lead, though WPI hung around until three consecutive baskets by Cavalieri, Crean and Danny White pushed the lead to double digits with 2:42 to go.
Springfield’s defense was the key to the victory, as they harassed WPI’s shooters all game. WPI was only able to muster 23.3% (14-for-60) shooting on the night, including 19.4% in the second half as they tried to climb back into the game. The Engineers suffered through long stretches without a basket, closing out the final 6:42 of the first half without a field goal, as well as the final 5:19 of the game. WPI shot 1-for-13 (7.7%) in the second half from behind the arc as the Pride sat on their lead and clamped down on defense.
WPI came out of the locker room on fire in the first half, starting the game with four 3-pointers and taking an early 14-5 lead. Springfield would fight back, scoring the next nine points to tie it up at 14 midway through the frame. With the game still knotted at 23 with 4:18 to go in the half, Springfield went on a 5-0 spurt to gain the advantage, and took a 30-26 lead heading into the break.
Springfield was dominant inside, outscoring WPI by a 40-14 margin in the paint. The Pride also received major contributions from their bench, which bested the Engineer reserves 28-4 on the night to key the upset.
Jerome Kirkland paced the Engineers with 21 points. Adam Lirette added eight points and a team-best five assists. Izuchi chipped in with seven points, while Ben Etten pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for WPI.
Crean added a team-high five assists to his double-double for the Pride. Ryan Coburn netted nine points and grabbed five rebounds, while Antoine Hicks contributed seven points for the victors.
Springfield will take on the MIT in Sunday’s NEWMAC Championship Game at 2:30 pm at Harrington Auditorium. The NEWMAC Women’s Championship between Wheaton and Babson will precede the Men’s Championship, with a scheduled 12pm tipoff.