WORCESTER -- The No. 13 WPI men's basketball team roared past Liberty League champion Vassar 77-58 in the team's NCAA Division III Tournament first round game in front of a boisterous crowd at Harrington Auditorium on Friday night.
With the victory the Engineers advance to the NCAA second round for the first time since 2013 when they defeated SUNY Purchase 80-67, also in Worcester. This time around WPI will square off against Penn State Harrisburg, who defeated Saint Joseph's (CT) 63-53 in game one of the Worcester Regional. Saturday night's game will kickoff at 6:20 pm ET.
WPI (25-2) was led from start to finish by junior John Lowther (Hingham, MA) who finished with a game-high 21 points while also adding three rebounds and a pair of assists. Colin McNamara (Arlington, MA) added 13 points on the evening, which pushed him over the 1,000 point mark for his stellar career (1,003). McNamara becomes the 27th 1,000 point scorer in school history.
In addition to the 13 points, McNamara added six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Logan O'Donnell (Fishkill, NY) added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while Aidan Callahan (Rowley, MA) added 10 points and five assists.
The nation's number five scoring defense shut down Vassar who averaged 70.0 points a game this season, holding them to just 58 points, even lower than their season average of 60.4 ppg.
Vassar (18-9) was led by Ethan Ellis (Silver Spring, MD) who managed 11 points and four rebounds. While the duo of Avni Mustafaj (Yonkers, NY) and Jack Rothenberg (Yardley, PA) each added eight points. Rothenberg also chipped in seven rebounds while Mustafaj added three boards and three assists.
The two teams traded leads to begin the game. The hosting Engineers started things off on an 8-3 run thanks to six-straight points to start the game from Lowther, but Vassar responded with four-straight buckets to gain an 11-8 advantage with 14:09 left in the first half.
A quick 7-0 run at the hands of Lowther and McNamara over a 48 second span gave the Engineers a 17-16 advantage and forced Vassar into a timeout. Lowther started the run off with a three, with the assist coming from McNamara. Following that bucket McNamara followed up with a steal, and easily laid a bucket in seconds later, and after another Vassar miss, Lowther pulled down a rebound and sent a pass to McNamara who finished with another layup to give WPI the lead.
Both teams went without a bucket for the next three minutes of action, but once the WPI offense got going, it didn't stop as the Engineers raced out on a 17-3 run over the next seven minutes of action, spreading the offense to five different WPI point-getters, including Lowther who led the stretch with eight points, helping the squad to a 36-24 halftime advantage.
The two teams traded buckets to begin the second half until the Engineers blew the game wide open using a 14-1 run to make it a 63-37 game behind a McNamara and-one. O'Donnell started things off with back-to-back 3-pointers on ensuing possessions followed by a slam from Lowther. A McNamara and-one capped the run, as the grad student also went over the 1,000 point mark on the same play.
Vassar finally ended the run after four-straight points from Mustafaj but the WPI momentum was too strong as everything seemed to find the bottom of the net the rest of the way for the Engineers en route to the win.
WPI was an outstanding 31-of-54 in the game for a shooting percentage of 57.4, holding Vassar to a 39.2 field goal percentage. The Engineers also forced Vassar into 12 turnovers while making just five of their own.
WPI will once again be back in action Saturday night at 6:20pm when they take on Penn State Harrisburg in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Harrington Auditorium. Ticket prices are $15 per day for adults and $10 for students and seniors.