Walker, Rodgers & Downing, Oh My: Men’s Basketball Advances to NEWMAC Final

Kahleb Downing

Springfield, MA --- Reid Walker (Lithia, FL) tied his career-high with 23 points, including the final free throw, and Chris Rodgers (Franklin, MA) forced overtime with a late layup as fourth-seeded WPI knocked off top-seeded Springfield, 84-80, in the NEWMAC Men's Basketball Championship semifinals held in Blake Arena. Kahleb Downing (Middleton, CT) canned a key 3-pointer and a jumper in the extra session.

The Engineers (16-11) move on to the program's eighth NEWMAC final, and first since the 2012-13 season. They will face third-seeded, and No. 25, MIT Sunday at 1pm in Springfield's Blake Arena. The Pride (18-8), who were sixth in the latest NCAA Regional Rankings, now await a potential at-large berth to the national tournament.

Walker and Rodgers, who finished with 14 points and seven assists, each accounted for seven rebounds. Downing chipped in with 13 points.  

The five Pride starters totaled 79 of 80 points, including 34 points and 16 rebounds – 14 defensive - by Ross. Post and Andy McNulty (West Springfield, MA) each scored 12 points as Brandon Eckles (East Greenwich, RI) contributed with 11 and Cam Earle (South Hadley, MA) posted 10.

Trailing 71-68 following a Heath Post (Cheshire, CT) dunk with 44 seconds to go, Rodgers cut the deficit to one with a layup 18 seconds later. Post followed with a freebie setting up the game-tying jumper by Rodgers.

The Pride were up by four with 3:14 left in the bonus frame. Rodgers free throws, combined with a three by Downing, gave the Engineers the 79-78 advantage with just over a minute left. Jake Ross (Northampton, MA) tilted the scoreboard back to the home team with a pair of free throws before Downing once again put the Crimson and Gray ahead, this time for good. Freshman Colin McNamara (Arlington, MA) added a pair of free throws prior to Walker sealing it.

Springfield jumped out to a 5-0 lead a little over a minute into the contest, all on points from Earle, before the Engineers answered back with 10-straight points, capped off by a corner triple by Walker at the 14:58 mark. After a baby hook in the paint by Garrett Stephenson (Townson, MA) gave the visitors a 14-7 cushion, Springfield responded with a 13-4 surge, as a triple from the left wing by Ross put the hosts on top 20-16.  A trifecta from Dakota Wheeler (Easthampton, MA) allowed WPI to regain a 22-20 lead, only to have Ross net seven-straight points for the 27-22 lead with under eight to go. 

As they did the entire first half, WPI answered right back as a three-pointer from Downing, which finished off a 6-0 surge.  The teams would then trade buckets before WPI scored the final four points of the half to take a 37-35 advantage into the break.  WPI shot 15-for-30 in the opening 20 minutes, with Walker tallying a team-best 12 points.  Springfield struggled from the field, going 11-for-31 (35.5%), including 6-of-17 from deep, with Ross and Earle registering 25 of the Pride's 35 points.

After McNulty cashed in on a triple from the right wing to make it a 42-40 contest, WPI rattled off six-straight points to earn its largest lead of the afternoon, 48-40, following two freebies from Jake Wisniewski (West Brookfield, MA) at 16:02. A putback by Wisniewski pushed WPI on top, 55-47, at the 12:15 mark before Springfield produced a 15-4 push, with McNulty netting another triple to give the hosts a 63-59 lead with 7:51 to play. 

Portion Release Courtesy Springfield College