WORCESTER --- Freshmen Jake Needleman (Morganville, NJ), Reid Walker (Lithia, FL) and Garrett Stephenson (Townsend, MA) sparked a 7-0 rally to start the second half as host WPI defeated Fitchburg State 77-45 in a non-conference men's basketball contest played on Saturday afternoon.
The victory marks the first time this season WPI has won consecutive games as the Engineers improve to 4-3 on the season, while the Falcons (2-4) modest two-game win streak, was snapped.
Holding a 27-22 advantage at the break, the Crimson and Gray came out of the locker room strong, starting with a 3-pointer from Needleman off a feed from Chris Rodgers (Franklin, MA), a jumper from Walker following a pass from Stephenson, and a pair of free throws in the opening 80 seconds. Needleman continued to shine, draining a pull-up jumper with 10:24 left on the clock, pushing the WPI lead to 19 before finishing a trio of 3-pointers.
The Falcons were not left silenced in the half as Tyrell St. John (Stamford, CT) collected all of his eight points after intermission. As a team the Falcons flew in the final three minutes of play, scoring 11 points late but a trifecta from Avelino Damoura (Dorchester, MA) with 23 seconds left assured the 77-45 triumph.
After a sloppy start from both sides, WPI's Walker nabbed a steal and went the length of the court on his own for the first score of the game. Soon after, the Falcons surged, jumping out to as much as a seven-point lead just ten minutes into the game. This came off a flurry of scoring from Johnathan Perez (Lowell, MA), tallying six in that span.
The Engineers went back to their fundamentals, scoring 18 total points in the paint in the first half, with eight coming via Garrett Stephenson (Townsend, MA) as WPI tied the game at 20 with 5:59 left in the first half. Upon pushing the score to 22 apiece, a defensive battle ensued where we saw no scoring from either team, save free-throws, for the remaining 3:30 of play in the stanza. However the Engineers were gifted a few more trips to the charity stripe than the Falcons, scoring 18-of-24 attempts for the game, and finished the first 20 minutes of the game up, 27-22. The WPI defense held FSU without a field goal over the final eight minutes of the stanza, forcing the Falcons to miss on all 10 of their field goal attempts during the span and pressuring four turnovers.
Rodgers and Walker each collected double-doubles on the day. Rodgers netted totals of 11 points and 11 rebounds along with three assists and a pair of steals while Walker registered 10 points, 10 boards, three assists and swiped a game-high three steals. Needleman led all players with 14 total points, all in the second half while Stephenson and Colin McNamara (Arlington, MA) both chipped in with 10 points apiece.
Jake Wisniewski (West Brookfield, MA) added eight rebounds and helped the Engineers enjoy a 53-32 edge on the glass and a 16-5 bulge in second chance points.
Nifty playmaker Jerrell Gomes (Providence, RI) and St. John shared team-high scoring honors for Fitchburg State with eight points each. Anselm Edegbe (Boston, MA) aided the Falcon effort with a team-best six boards off the bench while Perez contributed with seven points, five caroms, a pair of assists and two steals.
WPI returns to action Thursday with a 5:30 match-up with a rematch of the Ted Coghlin Tournament championship game last month at undefeated Eastern Connecticut. Fitchburg State is back on the court on Tuesday, playing host to Clark at 7pm.
Majority of recap written by WPI student assistant Ranier Gran '18