Springfield, MA --- Tournament Most Outstanding Player, junior AJ Jurko (Weston, FL) and WPI freshman Reid Walker (Lithia, FL) shared game-high honors with 16 points apiece as third-seeded, and No. 25, MIT edged fourth-seeded WPI, 63-57, Sunday afternoon in the 2018 NEWMAC Men's Basketball Championship game played in Springfield's in Blake Arena.
Cambridge's Engineers (22-5) were ninth in the latest NCAA Regional Rankings while top-seeded Springfield was sixth giving the conference a chance of two invites to the national tournament. WPI concludes its season with a 16-12 ledger.
Jurko also totaled eight assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block. Sophomore Aidan Einloth (Grayslake, IL) and freshman Ian Hinkley (Raleigh, NC) combined to score 23 points off the bench. Junior Cameron Korb (Los Gatos, CA) added 10 points and classmate Dakota Pierce (Thousand Oaks, CA) chipped in with eight.
Senior Aaron Todd (York, ME) was effective in the first half, scoring 11 of his 13 points and corralling five of his seven rebounds. Freshman Kahleb Downing (Middleton, CT) accounted for 12 of the Boynton Hillers 17 bench points. Walker was close to a double-double with eight rebounds as Todd and sophomore Jake Wisniewski (West Brookfield, MA) each hauled in seven boards.
WPI came out strong over the first 3:19, seizing an 11-2 lead behind six early points from Todd. An MIT layup by junior Tim Roberts (Oak Bluffs, MA) ended the run, but WPI extended the lead to double figures with 13:36 at 16-6 on a runner off the glass from Wisniewski.
Trailing 20-8, the Cambridge's Engineers countered with an 11-1 run that was capped by a dunk and a three-point play from sophomore Einloth to pull MIT within 21-19 at the 8:04 mark. WPI threes from freshman Dakota Wheeler (Easthampton, MA) and Downing, along with a putback from Todd, stretched the advantage back out to 29-20 with 6:13 left before the break.
MIT put together a 7-0 run to close within 31-30 on a Roberts layup at the 2:12 mark and eventually trailed 36-32 at the half following two free throws from Jurko with 1.8 seconds left.
MIT shot 43.5 percent from the field in the half to go along with 9-for-10 shooting at the line. WPI shot 55.6 percent and hit five three-pointers over the first 20 minutes. Jurko was the top scorer in the period for MIT with 12 points to go along with five assists.
In the second half, MIT took its first lead of the game on an Einloth layup with 15:07 remaining, but WPI quickly came back as the game was tied at 44-44 with 12:35 on the clock after a reverse layup from Walker. A three from Korb and an Einloth layup put the Engineers in front for good at 49-44, but the game remained close at 53-50 with 5:59 left.
MIT briefly stretched the lead out to eight at 58-50, but WPI wasn't done and cut it down to 59-57 with 8.4 seconds remaining. A WPI turnover out of bounds gave MIT the ball back though and four free throws in the final moments sealed the team's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Todd, Rodgers and Dave Zielinski (Shelton, CT), as well as Director of Basketball Operations Shane Farley capped their undergraduate careers by helping guide the younger members of the squad to the program's first finals appearance in five years.
Portions of Release Courtesy MIT