Cambridge, MA --- Colin McNamara (Arlington, MA) drained an off-balance 14-foot jumper as time expired to lift fifth-seeded WPI to a pulsating 55-53 victory over top-seed and seventh-ranked MIT in a NEWMAC Men's Basketball Tournament semifinal contest on Thursday evening.
With the victory, WPI (19-8) advances to its second straight NEWMAC Tournament championship game. Worcester's Engineers will travel to second-seeded Emerson, an 80-68 winner over third-seeded Springfield in the other semifinal tilt, for a 1pm championship game on Saturday. MIT is now 22-4 and expects to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament when selections are revealed on Monday afternoon.
Early in the second half, it did not look like the game would come down to the final shot as WPI matched its halftime lead of 18 points with 14:30 remaining. Trailing 39-21, MIT embarked upon an impressive 27-8 run and went ahead for the first time in the second half at 48-47 when Dan Pilsbury (Millington, NJ) connected on a 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining.
The game went back-and-forth from that point on. WPI's Dakota Wheeler (Easthampton, MA) canned a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a Tim Roberts (Oak Bluffs, MA) offensive putback as WPI led 53-50 with 1:08 to go. MIT misfired on its next possession but regained the ball following a WPI turnover. A.J. Jurko (Weston, FL) then tied the game when his 3-pointer hit high off the rim and fell in with 17.5 seconds left setting the stage for McNamara's buzzer-beating heroics at the other end.
Defense was the key for WPI in the first half as the guests limited the home standing Engineers to 7-of-33 (21.2%) shooting from the floor, including 1-of-12 (8.3%) from downtown. Trailing 10-9 eight minutes into the opening frame, the guests rattled off seven straight points to start a 11-2 run that put the Crimson and Gray ahead 20-12 on a pair of Garrett Stephenson (Townsend, MA) free throws with just over seven minutes before intermission. After a pair of Roberts freebies for MIT cut the deficit to seven at 24-17, WPI scored the final 11 points of the first half, bookended by a pair of trifectas by Kahleb Downing (Middletown, CT) in the last 2:17.
McNamara finished with game-highs of 13 points and four assists for WPI. Jake Wisniewski (West Brookfield, MA) was other double figure scorer for the guests with 11 points of 4-of-5 shooting the floor. The junior also played outstanding defense before fouling out with 6:37 left to go in the game. Stephenson was huge on the boards, corralling a career-best 12 rebounds to go along with eight points.
Jurko led MIT with 13 points and six assists while Bradley Jomard (Paris, France) chipped in with 10 points and five boards. Roberts was a force on the glass, pacing all players with 17 boards on the night and joined Hamilton Forsythe (Weston, CT) with nine points.
Both teams excelled on defense. MIT shot only 33.9% (21-of-62) while WPI was just 35.0% (21-of-60) from the floor. Other stats were nearly identical as WPI held slight edges in rebounding (43-40), points in the paint (24-22) and points off turnovers (18-15) while MIT held a 15-11 advantage in second chance points.