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The MIT men’s basketball team made history on Sunday, March 1, defeating Springfield College 76-50 to claim the first New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championship in over a century of MIT basketball. This game capped a stellar season in which the team, led by senior tri-captains James M. “Jimmy” Bartolotta ’09, Willard J. “Billy” Johnson ’09 and Bradley H. Gampel ’09, cultivated a 20-8 record (8-4 NEWMAC) and broke Institute records for single-game points, career points, single-season assists, single-game and single-season steals, and three-point shots. The conference championship earns the Engineers’ their first-ever spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Tournament.

Sunday’s championship game saw the Engineers performing characteristically well. Bartolotta scored 37 points, just six points shy of the Institute record of 43 points he set in November against Curry College. Gampel made three steals, extending his Institute record for single-season steals. Gampel’s eight steals against the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on February 25 marked the single game Institute record. As a team, the Engineers shot 47% for the game and made ten of 25 three-point attempts. Springfield narrowed MIT’s lead to only seven points in the second half, but a surge of scoring from Bartolotta and Johnson widened the gap, allowing the Engineers to finish ahead by a comfortable margin.

Johnson recalled his feelings going into the game: “We knew what was at stake … over a century of history was riding on these next 40 minutes of basketball. But we also knew that we had to treat it as just another game, another opponent, and another chance to just leave everything on the floor.”

The Engineers were recognized for their accomplishments in the NEWMAC Postseason Awards. Bartolotta, Gampel, and Johnson all received all-conference selections. Bartolotta, who was recently named ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America of the Year, was also named NEWMAC Player of the Year. In addition, MIT head coach Larry Anderson was named Coach of the Year, an honor he also received after the 2005-2006 season.

Their successes have come despite the fact that MIT has the smallest men’s basketball team in the conference, making every player essential. According to Johnson, ”Before each game, we’re constantly met with questions from referees, other teams, and fans asking ‘Wait, where’s the rest of your team?’ We chuckle a little bit at that, go out and play, then come back and finish our p-sets.”

The team has had a long road to the championship, starting practices soon after the completion of the 2007-2008 season, and continuing to practice together throughout the summer. Even the squad’s incoming freshmen members were present for summer practices. In addition to the almost daily workouts and lifting sessions, the players’ summer schedules included competition in a Summer League against other college teams as well as former professional or Division I and II college players.

The team was guided throughout by Anderson; Assistant Coaches Kevin Byrne, Paul Grant, and Brian Phillips; Director of Basketball Operations Gunner Hagstrom; and Leadership/Alumni Relations Coach Indran Ratnathicam ’98. Looking back on the team’s season, Gampel commented, “I’ve just never been on a team that cares so much about each other and about playing and winning for each other.” “It’s awesome we get to keep this ride going and now we’re all just focused on winning six more games and extending this journey for three more weeks.”

The next stage of that journey begins tonight as the Engineers embark on their NCAA tournament bid, facing Rhode Island College at 6 p.m. in RIC’s Murray Center in Providence. Asked about the tournament, Johnson said, “We’re pumped. We’re ready to keep making history, but more importantly, make MIT proud. This one’s for the nerds!” Two fan buses will be leaving from Amherst Alley at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $6.00 for general admission, and $3.00 for students with an ID. The game will also be broadcast live at http://ricollege.ezstream.com/play/index.cfm?id=121FA01A9A. The full tournament bracket is available at http://www.d3boards.com/playoffs/mbbbracket2009.pdf.