WORCESTER -- The WPI defense held visiting Emerson to no made field goals in the final five minutes as the Engineers defeated the Lions 65-63 in a NEWMAC men's basketball contest played Wednesday evening in Harrington Auditorium.
With the victory, WPI wins its third straight home NEWMAC contest and ups its record to 12-4 on the season while Emerson slips to 8-8. Both squads are now 3-2 in conference play.
Emerson closed a three-point gap to one when Geoffrey Gray (Newton, MA) drained a pair of free throws with 4:28 to go to make the score 63-62 in favor of the home standing Engineers. WPI pushed the bulge back to three when Kahleb Downing (Middletown, CT) made what proved to be the last basket of the game just 15 seconds later.
From there the defenses took center stage as WPI forced the visitors to miss on their final seven field goal attempts. The Emerson defense was no slouch either, keeping the Engineers out of the scoring column on 0-for-6 shooting the rest of the way. Lion freshman Jarred Houston (Norwood, MA) canned 1-of-2 free throws with 17.5 seconds remaining to make the score 65-63. After WPI missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.7 seconds left, Emerson had one final possession but the Crimson and Gray defense harassed the guests into two final misfires in the last six seconds to earn the victory.
After a nip and tuck opening five minutes, the Engineers rattled off 12 straight points to transform a 12-11 deficit into a 23-12 advantage. Dakota Wheeler (Easthampton, MA) began the spurt with four quick points, followed by 3-pointers by Downing and Ethan Harrell (Wexford, PA) and finally punctuated by a Logan O'Donnell (Fishkill, NY) dunk in transition.
The WPI lead ballooned to 19 points at 37-18 but the Lions responded with a 10-0 run of their own highlighted be a conventional 3-point play by Ben Holden (South Dartmouth, MA) and a pair of jumpers from Gray to get the deficit back to 10 points, the same margin (43-33) the teams took into the locker room at intermission.
Emerson continued its strong play into the start of the second half, using a pair of Houston free throws to cap a 15-4 uprising over the opening 6:19 of the second stanza that gave the Lions their only lead of the second half. WPI quickly responded with a pair of baskets by Colin McNamara (Arlington, MA) to claim the lead for good.
Dowling led a balanced WPI scoring effort with 15 points. O'Donnell tallied 12 of his 14 points in the first half while Wheeler and McNamara each finished with 11. Reid Walker (Lithia, FL) paced all players with 10 rebounds and four steals on the night and McNamara stuffed the stat sheets with a game-high five assists, five boards and a pair of steals.
Gray tallied game-bests of 20 points and nine rebounds for the Lions and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Zach Waterhouse (Hampton, NH) poured in 14 points and Houston added 12 to go along with eight boards and three blocks.
The difference of the game may have WPI's 3-point shooting in the opening 20 minutes. The Engineers were 7-for-13 from behind the arc in the first half while Lions were just 2-for-19 (10.5%) from downtown on the night. In all, Emerson enjoyed a 32-16 edge in points in the paint while the WPI bench outscored their visiting counterparts by a 29-8 margin.
Both teams are back in action on Saturday. WPI heads down Park Ave to face city rival Clark at 3pm while Emerson closes out a three-game road trip at Wheaton in a rare 11am affair.