Friday, March 5, 2010

Valiant Comeback Falls Short as MIT Loses in Overtime

A bittersweet feeling is sweeping through the MIT basketball nation as the team prepares for a long journey back to Cambridge, Massachusetts. After setting the school record for wins in a season and capturing its first NEWMAC regular-season championship, the Engineers were bested by a very talented, senior-laden DeSales team in the first round of the NCAA Division III Championship in which regulation didn't provide enough time to produce a winner. Nationally-ranked No. 21 MIT battled back from a double-digit deficit in the second half, but was unable to replicate its heroic overtime victory of a year ago, falling to the Bulldogs, 72-64, on Friday night.

It was a tremendous effort for the Engineers, as five players logged over 40 minutes of action. Freshman Mitchell Kates never came out of the game en route to 16 points and eight rebounds, although he was just 5-of-18 from the floor. Fellow freshman Will Tashman provided the 460+ online viewers a glimpse of his bright future as he poured in a game-best 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 9 boards. Noel Hollingsworth also played well for the Cardinal and Gray, dropping in 18 points and had 7 rebounds. Although Hollingsworth was credited with three blocks, he had several additional deflections and drew a constant double-team in the paint throughout the game. Unfortunately, the production pretty much ended there for MIT. Playing in the final game of his MIT career, Billy Johnson dished out a team-best five assists, hauled in 7 rebounds, and scored five points in a critical stretch during the second-half comeback, but the Engineers were certainly hoping for more out of their fifth-year senior and only experienced player. MIT again struggled from distance, shooting 7-27, and only shot 13-24 from the FT line.

Darnell Braswell led the Bulldogs with 19 points, although rookie Jimmy Burke did an admirable job in trying to contain the reigning Freedom Conference Player of the Year. The biggest disappointment of the game for the Engineers was their inability to control the glass. Despite having a size advantage at four positions, DeSales was +12 on the boards midway through the second half and ended the contest with a decisive rebounding advantage. After trailing for most of the game, Kates gave MIT its first lead of the second-half on a free-throw with 2:47 left in regulation. The teams exchanged baskets in the final minutes and both teams missed on bids to end the game on their final possessions. Braswell took the last shot for DeSales as the buzzer sounded but his drive and shot in the paint rimmed out. The All-American senior, however, delivered the decisive blow with under two minutes left in overtime by drilling a three at the top of the arc with the shot clock winding down.

DeSales, which advanced to the Elite Eight last season, behind Braswell's incredible play, will face the winner of host William Paterson and Albertus Magnus in the second round on Saturday.