If there is one thing that MIT’s men’s basketball team has done consistently this season, it’s winning. Last week, MIT increased its record to 11-0, grabbing two tough wins against Tufts (6-2) and Salem State (6-2). The undefeated Engineers have the top record in all of Division III and are currently ranked 7th in the nation, though they look to be moving up in the coming days.
MIT’s win against Salem State was a cruise; the Engineers took off to an early 20-7 lead within a little more than six minutes of the game. The early lead was in part due to James D. Karrakers ’12’s performance against UMass Boston two nights before, having scored an Institute record of nine threes. The Salem State defense was forced to play tight on the arc, in order to avoid any open shots for MIT from the three-point range. The tight exterior defense left the paint open, so long as MIT’s offense was able to get by Salem State’s defense, which it did.
Having obtained the early lead, MIT sailed the rest of the game, finishing with a 78-66 win, Salem State unable to force a strong enough run to budge the Engineers. MIT played well from the field, hitting 33 of 64, and from beyond the arc, eight of 20; though, they were not able to connect from the free throw line, only able to hit an unusually low four of 11.
Each of the team’s starting five put on an impressive show: Noel Hollingsworth ’13 scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds, but what truly stood out was his defensive performance, consisting of two steals and a whopping five blocks; William Tashman ’13 had yet another double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds and six assists; William E. Bender ’12 was the theft of the game, snatching away three balls and grabbing 10 rebounds; and Mitchell H. Kates ’13 played great all-around, with 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. Karraker, who had previously managed to score his career high (27 points) against UMass Boston, broke his record again, for a career-high 28 points, coming primarily from his seven threes and three layups, an unusually high number of layups for Karraker that rooted from the holes in the paint that Salem State left open.
MIT faced a huge test Saturday against the Tufts Jumbos. In an epic battle, MIT emerged victorious, coming from behind during the final moments of the game. The Tufts fans were numerous and rowdy, making the Tufts game similar to a Division I away game, with Jumbos fans shouting nasty remarks and booing the MIT team. Luckily, the MIT fans that traveled to see the game and the players on the bench made enough noise to help pump the team up when it mattered, during the last moments of the game.
The game was tight — with 11 lead swaps, neither team was able to manage a significant lead over the other. As a result, both teams tried to minimize the amount of time the bench was clocked in, Tufts having their bench clocked in for a combined total of only 55 minutes and MIT’s bench clocking in for fewer, with only 34 minutes, 15 of which were played by Dennis R. Levene ’15, whose all-around effort during the game helped encourage the Engineers who were having a tough night.
Both teams primarily scored from layups, short jumpers, and free throws. Tufts’ strong defense in the paint, having three of their starting five at six feet and five inches in height or taller, was able to keep MIT’s scoring to a minimal, dropping the Engineers’ field goal percentage down by over 10 points from the average, from 52.5 percent to 41.4 percent. Their height also hurt MIT’s rebounding, dropping the Engineers from their average of 41 to only 34 against the Jumbos. Still, MIT was able to recuperate from the Tufts defense by playing a good defense of their own, which made Tufts force the ball toward the basket and try to play the ball quickly rather than setup a steady offense.
Baskets beyond the arc did not fall for the Engineers during the Tufts game; usually averaging 40.2 percent from the three point range, MIT only hit for a mere 10 percent against the Jumbos, draining only one three during the entire game. That said, the Engineers free throw percentage was slightly better than usual, at 78.6 percent versus an average of 70.6 percent.
The first half of the game started with a series of lead switches, until MIT started a 15-4 run against Tufts with a free throw from Paul E. Dawson ’15 at 7:23 to put MIT at a 29-21 lead. The Engineers ended the close first half ahead, 29-23.
In the second half of the game, MIT started out playing smoothly, but around the 16 minute mark, the Engineers’ struggle began. Tufts managed a 10-4 run, to tie up the game at 9:41, 39-39. The lead shifted for the next few minutes, until around 6:40, when Tufts managed a 7-0 run to end up ahead 54-48 with 4:55 left in the game.
Nicholas J. Prus ’15 describes the moments that followed as “pulse pounding […] with the fans of the other team only a few feet above the court and the energy of gym growing by the second”. Kates, the team’s point guard, led the team to victory in the final moments, with two layups, two steals and an assist to lead MIT to victory.
Down 48-54, Kates stole the ball and delivered an assist to Bender, who scored a layup. After nearly a two minute scoring drought for both sides, Bender grabs an offensive rebound and scores a layup to bring the team into striking distance, down 52-54. Following a free throw from Tufts, Kates drives the ball for a layup, taking MIT within one point of Tufts, 54-55. After a layup from Hollingsworth to take the lead and a free throw from Tufts to tie up the game, Kates made a layup followed by a steal, to get fouled and sent to the line, off of the bonus with only two seconds left. Kates then sealed the victory, hitting both free throws, to win the game for MIT, 60-56.
“We played a very good team in Tufts University and the fact that it was in such a hostile environment added to the challenge. And to see the team come together to overcome that challenge reassures me that despite any adversity we may face, it doesn’t stand a chance when we’re rolling on all cylinders,” said Yeremia M. Nakhaima ’15
Head Coach Larry Anderson said to the team in the locker room after the Tufts game, “To be able to weather a storm like that and to come out of that smelling like roses, that’s what championship teams do.” With an 11-0 record and wins against high-caliber teams like Tufts and Salem State, MIT is certainly on its way toward a championship.
The Engineers will play their last game of the semester tomorrow, at home, against Wheelock College at 7 p.m.