Friday, February 26, 2010

Engineers Begin Quest for Second Consecutive NEWMAC Title Against Clark

On Saturday, nationally-ranked No. 13 MIT (22-3) hopes to take advantage of its first bye in the history of the NEWMAC postseason tournament in propelling to its third finals appearance in five seasons. The test will be stiff for the Engineers, who are 3-1 at home in the NEWMAC playoffs, and 2-1 all-time against Clark in the postseason. The Cougars enter the tilt full of confidence after dispatching Wheaton College on the road. The Lyons had proved to be MIT's nemesis this season after defeating the Engineers twice (the only Division III team to upend MIT this year), but they lost to Clark on Wednesday, 58-55.

Clark held MIT to its lowest scoring total of the season in the team's first meeting and its fourth-lowest scoring total of the year in the second encounter. The Engineers escaped with victories in both contests, although both games required a significant rally by the Cardinal and Gray.

On January 16, MIT erased a 14-point first half deficit en route to a 54-51 win in Worcester. The Cougars led 35-21 with two minutes remaining in the opening period before Mitchell Kates ran off six straight points to cut the lead to eight at the break. In the second half, MIT shot 55% from the floor while holding the Cougars to 29% shooting. Mark Alexander had a chance to tie the game at the end, but his attempt from three fell short.

In the second meeting of the season, MIT shrugged off a seven-point second half deficit to defeat Clark, 59-52. The Cougars led 38-31 with 14 minutes left to play, but four three's by rookie Jimmy Burke and a commanding 31-17 advantage for MIT on the glass proved to be the difference.

MIT and Clark rank first and second in the league in scoring defense and have slugged it out in the previous matchups, making it wise to take the under. The Engineers' battles against the Cougars have resulted in their two worst games of the year in terms of field goals made. On the other hand, MIT held Clark to a season-low 43 field goal attempts in their first trip to Rockwell Cage. Noel Hollingsworth has been the leading scorer in both meetings, totaling 20 points and 11 rebounds at Clark and 17 points in the re-match.

The keys for MIT include controlling the boards (+20 in two games), taking care of the basketball (-9 turnover margin), and keeping the Cougars off the free-throw line (22-of-26 against MIT). The Cougars offensive figures to go through Mark Alexander, who is third in the NEWMAC in scoring at 17.5 points per game and is second in the league in free-throw attempts. Alexander has totaled 29 points in two games versus the Engineers this season, while Brian Vayda has added 28. Both teams will look to shoot the open three, although few are expected to be had as the team's also rank first and second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage defense.