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MIT's man-to-man defense defeats E. Nazarene

By Jordan J. Ditchek

It's the only defensive strategy allowed by the NBA. It's the defense that provides the intense one-on-one matchups that entertain basketball fans across the country. As effective and exciting as it can be, the man-to-man defense remains a simple concept; each player is responsible for defending a single member of the opposing team.

However, when this basic defensive approach is executed with the tenacity that the MIT Engineers exhibited on Tuesday night, the results are impressive. The Engineers combined a man-to-man defense with a patient but at times exciting offense to defeat the Eastern Nazarene College Crusaders by a score of 84-77 in the John Rockwell Cage.

MIT opened the game by passing the ball around the perimeter of the Crusader defense and exploiting the open areas of the zone. The Engineers' systematic offensive approach and full court defensive pressure rewarded them with an 11-2 lead early in the game. Dave Tomlinson '91 put the first points on the board with a baseline jumpshot. On the very next trip down the court, he passed to co-captain Trae Shattuck '90 who scored the inside shot to give MIT a 4-0 lead. A free throw and a jumper from Pillan Thirumalaisamy '90, followed by two baskets by Mike Duffy '92, completed the initial scoring run.

Five minutes into the game, senior forward Jonathan Rice finally scored the first basket from the floor for Eastern Nazarene to start a streak of four unanswered baskets that reduced the lead to one point. As the teams battled for the lead, extremely physical play put both teams in early foul trouble. The Crusaders used an aggressive variety of the 2-1-2 zone defense in which Coach George Sisson encouraged his guards to "cheat" on the zone and put extra pressure on the ball.

Eastern Nazarene succeeded in taking a 19-17 lead on a basket by senior James Sheets who powered up with an offensive rebound. This lead lasted for just 25 seconds and was the only one the visiting team would enjoy all night. Tomlinson, who led MIT on the boards, provided key rebounds at both ends of the court to spark the second major scoring run of the game. In the next six minutes, MIT outscored the Crusaders 21-2.

It was during this segment of the game that the Engineers demonstrated the power of a well-played man-to-man defense. Co-captain Dave DellaGrotte '90 noted, "When we're all over them in man coverage, we set the tone for the game and we dictate what they have to do."

Shattuck, who led MIT with 22 points, pointed out that this type of defense not only forces turnovers, but facilitates other aspects of the game. "It's easier to box out and rebound when you can concentrate on the one man that you're assigned to," he said.

Both the turnovers and the defensive rebounds initiated fast breaks, which allowed the guards to contribute to the scoring. The scoring spurt was highlighted by three-pointers from guards DellaGrotte and Ike Ogbuike '93. Ogbuike finished off another fast break with a thrilling double-pump move down the right side of the lane.

For the remainder of the half, the teams traded baskets and MIT was able to extend its lead to 17 on a tipped-in rebound by Duffy. The Engineers went into the locker room at halftime with a 52-37 lead.

The MIT starting five began the second half by continuing the intense defensive effort. Two vicious shot blocks by Shattuck demonstrated that intensity, but the team's aggressiveness threatened to cost them as several players picked up third and fourth fouls. Coach Leo Osgood looked to his bench and called upon Chris Sonne '91, Geoff Mobisson '91 and Doug Jeffery '92. These players played key roles as MIT extended its lead to 19 points with just over 10 minutes remaining.

At this point, the game settled into a pattern in which MIT spread the floor on offense and patiently looked for open shots in an attempt to run down the clock. Rather than seal the victory, the slower pace of the game resulted in a lull which allowed the Crusaders to gain momentum and revive their chances of a comeback. For seven quiet minutes the Engineers managed to score only four points and Easter Nazarene soon closed the score to 77-68. The Crusaders were unable to cut the lead to less than five points and resorted to fouling to stop the clock. MIT made just enough of their free throws to keep the game out of reach.

Coach Osgood, who gave credit to Eastern Nazarene for "playing a good game and not quitting," attributed his team's second half scoring lapse to "a matter of concentration. We moved the ball well, but it wasn't dropping." He praised the overall performance of the team as a "great team effort," and was additionally pleased by the production of the players who came in off the bench. These players demonstrated the depth of this team, and Ogbuike contributed some flashes of excitement with his driving and dishing tactics.

As for the man-to-man defense, it looks as if MIT fans will see a lot more of it this year. Osgood stated that this defense is especially effective against the many three point shooters recently recruited by teams in the conference. Osgood said, "We'll continue to mix up the defense and include some full court presses and some half-court traps, but our bread-and-butter defense this year is the man-to-man."