Not long ago, were ready to dub Feb. 22, 2017 as one of the worst nights in Springfield College basketball history. And it all would have occurred on James Naismith Court within the heart of Blake Arena.
Women’s basketball’s season met a bitter end, falling to the Clark University Cougars 65-54 in the NEWMAC quarterfinals. Fast forward exactly two hours and eighteen minutes. Same court, same scenario (NEWMAC quarterfinals), similar feeling. Wheaton was up against Springfield 67-61 with 43 seconds left to play in the game. Dejection was seeping back onto the hardwood. It was coming for the men this time.
The Lyons were home free. All that was needed to advance to the semis was converted free throws. But Wheaton couldn’t strike the net. With less than two minutes to play in the contest, 10 freebies clanked off the rim. With each miss, the rumble of 790 spectators spiked in decibels. The door swung open one last time for Springfield to save its season, and the Pride jumped at the chance. 11 straight points from junior guard Andy McNulty, and a made floater over three Wheaton defenders from freshman forward Jake Ross, with 0.6 seconds remaining sent the tilt into overtime. The Lyons could not recover in post-regulation, and the Pride salted the game away at the line, before Ross erased Tim Berry’s buzzer beating prayer from the air with his one block in the game. Springfield emerged victorious 85-82. Winter sports were still alive on Alden Street.
After channeling its “Birthplace Magic,” Springfield now finds itself on its way to Wellesley. For a third time this season, they are primed to meet face-to-face with the No. 1 Division III team in the country – the Babson Beavers, in the NEWMAC semis (Saturday, 5pm) who are yet to lose on their home court.
Back in November, the narrative of the men’s basketball team was significantly different. Impressions were mixed. Ross, who went for 29 points and 11 rebounds in his collegiate debut against Western New England, was an intriguing addition to the roster. The first year player out of Northampton captured the imagination of campus with his opening performance. Ross came in as an athlete who received offers from Division II institutions to play basketball, yet opted to play for Springfield after fulfilling his desire to compete in both basketball and lacrosse.
A 2-0 record to start the season was met with significant intrigue. But then the Pride dropped three straight to close out November, which put the year into perspective in the early stages. With zero seniors, three juniors, and nine underclassmen, it was – at the beginning – unreasonable to set the expectations for Springfield at the level of a Babson or an MIT.
As the season progressed however, Coach Charlie Brock’s rotations began to click on all cylinders. Ross and McNulty have averaged 30 points per game combined, and the Pride has boasted a significant amount of depth since its pivotal home win against Coast Guard in January. The duo of Keegan McDonough and Stan Davis have complimented the scoring of Ross and McNulty well. As a freshman, McDonough has proven to be a Swiss army knife for Springfield, scoring key baskets for the Pride, while also proving to be a tenacious rebounder as a 6’2 guard. Davis has picked up where he left off his rookie season, as the second year point has put forth the stingy defensive effort that earned him a roster spot as a walk-on, and anchors the Pride’s perimeter defense. In recent games, the frontcourt trio of Brandon Eckles, Heath Post, and Kevin Durkin has proven to be a game changer on the glass. With the three big men sharing minutes, Springfield has averaged 42.6 rebounds in its last five contests.
So how does Springfield stack up against Babson? The last time the Pride paid the Beavers a visit they were blown out, finishing on the wrong end of a 95-77 final score. Springfield’s first look at Babson was a bit more competitive, as the Pride simply ran out of time to close the fourth quarter gap, dropping the home contest 73-68. As the away team, the Beaver’s relied heavily on triples to bury the Pride late, and benefitted from the scoring outburst of Joey Flannery, one of the most imposing players in both NEWMAC and Division III, who finished with 33 points. In the February blowout win, Flannery netted 36 points.
Corralling rebounds on Saturday will be crucial for the Pride. Opponents of Babson cannot give it second opportunities to score, as the Beavers have registered a field goal percentage of 49.4 percent. Babson rebounds at a 39.8 clip, which is lower than Springfield’s average in its last five games, however Babson has outrebounded the Pride in both of their meetings this year.
Regardless of previous matchups and results, it is very difficult to beat a team three times, unless said team is miles beneath the favored one. And judging on the Pride’s progression, there is indication that they will have a significant shot at a second monumental upset. After a thrilling double overtime victory over Wheaton that radiates vibes of the December dethroning of Amherst, the Pride heads north with terrifying momentum. Babson will not be able to afford to play in the showdown complacently. There may be some more Birthplace Magic left.