Friday, February 19, 2010

MIT Controls Own Destiny in Finale at Springfield

No. 11 nationally-ranked MIT can clinch its first regular-season NEWMAC title and hosting rights as the top seed in the conference tournament with a victory over Springfield College on Saturday. The Pride, meanwhile, can force a tie by holding home court. Springfield would need other additional scenarios in the other league games to earn the NEWMAC's top seed, but the picture is less messy if MIT can take out the Pride and collect a program-record 22nd win.

Springfield (13-11, 8-3 NEWMAC) has won six of seven and has lost only once at home since the beginning of December. Leading scorer Matt Cavalieri was out of action in the Pride's loss at Clark last Saturday, but he returned to lead a dominating win at WPI on Wednesday. Cavalieri scored 20 points, including 4-of-4 from three, to pace a 70-50 victory over the defending regular-season champs. Ryan Coburn added 15 points, and Pat Crean filled the stat sheet with 11 points, six rebounds, six assists, and four steals for a Springfield team that has shrugged off a miserable 2-8 start and now appears to be running on all cylinders.

MIT (21-3, 9-2) dropped its second league date to Wheaton on Wednesday, snapping a five-game winning streak and putting intrigue back into the conference race. The Engineers trailed by 13 with 6:30 left in regulation, but cut the deficit to two with 36 seconds left following a brilliant three-point play by Noel Hollingsworth. Unfortunately, the Lyons were nearly perfect at the charity stripe as they held on for their fourth win of the year over a regionally-ranked opponent.

In the season's previous meeting between MIT and Springfield, the Engineers used a 13-3 run midway through the second half to pull away en route to a 67-56 victory at Rockwell Cage. Hollingsworth registered a game-best 25 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting to pace the MIT attack, while Will Tashman (12 pts, 9 reb) also delivered a strong game. MIT led by as many as 12 points in the first half, while Springfield stormed back to take the lead six minutes into the second frame.

Cavalieri, who is fifth in the NEWMAC in scoring, has been the Pride's leading scorer in their past four home games while averaging 21.5 ppg. Senior Pat Crean has been just as effective and will be a difficult match-up for the Cardinal and Gray. In the teams' first meeting Crean had a team-best 17 points with most of his damage coming at the foul line.

The keys for MIT on Saturday include keeping the Pride out of the lane (dribble penetration cost the Engineers against Wheaton and Springfield was 15-of-23 from the line in the first meeting) while forcing Springfield to take tough shots from the outside where they are a league-low 27% on the season. The battle for the regular-season crown will feature the top two defensive teams in the NEWMAC, although MIT also leads the conference in field goal percentage (47%) and will look to be efficient in its offensive sets to keep the Pride at bay.