One of the most noteworthy seasons in Emerson College athletic history came to a close Wednesday night in Cambridge as coach Jim O’Brien’s blue collar men’s basketball fell in a competitive game against Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 64-56, in an opening round quarterfinal of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Tournament.
The game marked the first time an Emerson team made the NEWMAC playoffs since the school transferred into the conference last fall. Five other teams came up short before Emerson, who finishes its season at 13-12 in the regular season, and 6-8 in conference.
The Lions had earlier notable wins at home Dec. 7 against an Amherst College team then ranked No. 1 in the country by D3hoops.com, and on the road against NEWMAC regular season champion Worcester Polytechnic Institute, then No. 3 in the country, Feb. 6.
Emerson struggled against the interior size of the MIT Engineers all season, however, as Wednesday marked the Lions’ third loss of the season to MIT (18-8). The Lions lost the rebounding battle as MIT’s trio of 6-foot-8 juniors—Matt Redfield, Andrew Acker and Dennis Levene—combined for 32 rebounds as the Engineers won the battle of the boards, 42 to 34.
“Size really killed us,” said 6-foot-6 sophomore starter Kyle Edwards, who elevated his game in the second half for eight points and four rebounds after halftime. “We didn’t close out well enough on the 3-point shooters in the first half. We’ll be better when we play them [next season].”
Emerson’s rugged star tandem of Jon Goldberg (16 points) and Michael Thorpe (14 points) combined for 19 points in the second half as both played the entire game until Thorpe fouled out with 15 seconds to go as the Lions put MIT at the foul line to try to extend the game.
The Lions’ top two scorers slumped to just 3-of-17, shooting from the field in the first half, but collected themselves later on, going 7-of-15 after the break.
“I thought we fought hard,” said Goldberg, one of two team captains, along with junior guard Eli Kell-Abrams. “We made little mistakes, couldn’t hit free throws, just a tough loss to swallow.”
Goldberg is the team’s only senior, having transferred to Emerson as a junior from St. Lawrence University in New York.
A Thorpe layup with 8:57 to go cut Emerson’s deficit to 41-38, but the Lions couldn’t recover from the 14-3 MIT run that followed over the remaining 5:40 to make it 55-41.
Emerson trailed 61-48 with 35 seconds to go before late 3-pointers by Goldberg and Thorpe in the final 24 seconds, as the Lions tried to stage a last-ditch rally that came up short.
MIT coach Larry Anderson held Redfield out for over 13 minutes in the second half after the long-limbed star picked up his third foul 5:42 out of the break.
In Redfield’s absence, Acker (17 points) and freshman guard Dakota Pierce (game-high 18 points) each scored 12 points after the intermission.
Emerson was disadvantaged over the final 5:55 as 6-foot-7 South Boston native Brian Hurley (eight points, nine rebounds) fouled out, taking away the Lions’ tallest player.
Thorpe picked up his first of four assists 1:23 into the game as Edwards sent Emerson in front early. The Lions held the lead for over seven minutes before MIT guard Ryan Frankel (14 points) caught fire from beyond the arc, draining all three of his 3-point tries in the first half.
Emerson trailed 30-24 at halftime, but Edwards and Hurley both scored in the opening minute of the second half to briefly pull the Lions within two points, 30-28, before the hosts took control.
MIT moves on to face WPI at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 1, while Emerson, after being picked to finish last in the NEWMAC in a preseason coaches’ poll, managed to tack a playoff trip onto its season, with a team that will return 14 players.
Assistant sports editor Mike Lucas did not edit this story because he is a member of the men’s basketball team.