Men’s Basketball Clinches NEWMAC Regular Season Crown with 66-62 Win over Springfield

Courtesy of Springfield College Sports Information 

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Senior co-captain Billy Johnson poured in a season-high 20 points and the 11th-ranked MIT Engineers made several key free throws down the stretch to down the Springfield College men's basketball team, 66-62, in a New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) contest on Saturday afternoon at Blake Arena. The Engineers thus clinched the NEWMAC regular-season title, with the Pride claiming second all alone.

The win upped MIT's record to 22-3 overall, and 10-2 in conference play, to capture the first NEWMAC regular-season Championship in program history while setting a new Institute standard for wins in a season. The Pride fell to 13-12 overall, and 8-4 in the NEWMAC. MIT earns the No. 1 seed and a bye for next week's NEWMAC post-season tournament. The Engineers will host the final two rounds of the conference tournament on Saturday and Sunday, February 27 and 28. Tech will face the winner of the quarterfinal match-up between Wheaton and Clark on Saturday. Springfield, as the No. 2 seed, will play a quarterfinal game Wednesday night at home against Babson.

Johnson knocked down three-of-four from the line in the final 15 seconds to preserve the win for MIT, en route to matching his best scoring output on the year. Two others tallied 15 points apiece -- sophomore forward Noel Hollingsworth and freshman guard Jimmy Burke. Hollingsworth, the NEWMAC's leading scorer, also added a game-high 15 rebounds. Freshman guard Mitchell Kates was next for the Engineers with seven points, adding six assists, and three steals.

For the Pride, Crean, a 6-4 forward from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and SC's only senior who was honored before the game in ceremonies, scored a team-high 19 points and added five rebounds. Three others scored in double figures for SC. They were junior guard Darvis Rankins with 14 (including shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point range), junior guard Billy Harkins with 12 points, plus eight rebounds and a game-high seven assists, and sophomore center Ryan Coburn with 10 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

MIT got off to a good start, leading 8-2 after Hollingsworth nailed a 3-pointer with 16:56 left in the first half. With 6:43 left, the Engineers still led by five (19-14) when Hollingsworth hit a jumper. But a lay-up and 3-pointer by Rankins, the latter with 6:30 left, tied the game at 19-all. The game was tied up again at 25-all when Crean hit a short jumper with 2:37 left. But MIT's Burke gave the Engineers a three-point lead with 2:13 to go. A free throw by Crean with 1:56 left was the last point of the half, and MIT led 28-26. Crean had 11 of his 19 points at the intermission.

Springfield enjoyed its best spurt of the game right at the start of the second half, running off eight straight points to take a 34-28 lead, its largest of the game, with 18:23 left. In fact, MIT missed its next field goal attempt and SC had the ball with numbers on a fast break. But Burke made an important steal, and then canned a 3-pointer to allow MIT right back into the game at 34-31 with 17:49 left.

SC led 39-35 when Harkins canned a 3-pointer with 16:13 left, but that is when the SC drought began. Springfield did not score another field goal until Rankins hit a 3-pointer with 4:18 left, making it 51-48 in favor of MIT. Neither team was lighting it up through that entire stretch, but MIT's 16-6 run was good enough to put the Engineers in control.

MIT eventually led by as many as 10, at 61-51, on a free throw by Burke with just 45 seconds left. But SC made three trifectas in the final 45 seconds to keep things interesting. After a Rankins a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, the Pride had actually cut the deficit to three points, at 65-62. However, Johnson would make one free throw at the other end to put the Cardinal and Grey back up two possessions with 10 seconds to go. Kates then made a steal with six seconds left to close it out.

Johnson scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half. He was 5-of-6 from the free throw line in the final moments, doing his best to keep Springfield at bay.