The Emerson men’s basketball team is now fully immersed as a member of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, which is widely regarded as one of the toughest in all of Division 3. WPI is currently the third-ranked team in the country, as rated by D3hoops.com, and in 2012, MIT made it to the NCAA Tournament Final Four.
It’s been an up-and-down start, with the Lions beginning conference play at a 3-5 clip following an overtime loss to Babson on Saturday, Feb. 1. That came after competitive losses at MIT and at home to Springfield College. On Thursday, Feb. 6, Emerson will meet WPI for the second time this season in a 5 p.m. game out in Worcester. Here are a few things players said the team has learned during its current stretch against the top four teams the NEWMAC has to offer.
Competition is stiffer
The level of play and physicality in the NEWMAC is something that the Lions said they have had to adjust to.
“They’re physically better than most of the teams I’ve ever played in my life. They really don’t let you get into your sets,” sophomore forward Kyle Edwards said. “[NEWMAC opponents] rebound well, and you really can’t leave any of their wings open because they’ll knock [a jumper] down if they’re open.”
Players said they were not sure what to expect when league play began, and sophomore guard Michael Thorpe said he thought the first game was their worst conference result of the season.
“Our very first [NEWMAC] game was a rude awakening when we lost to Babson by 30, so that was like an introduction to how good our league is,” said Thorpe, the team’s top scorer at 14.3 points per game. “Every game is against a really good opponent. In the [Great Northeast Athletic Conference], you had a couple of games [where] you could relax and go through the motions. Every game you have to bring it. There’s no slouch in the league.”
Since that first blowout loss to Babson, the Lions have improved significantly. In their second meeting with Babson, they led most of the way before falling in a frantic five-minute overtime session that saw the two teams combine for 30 points.
Edwards agreed that the difference in talent from the GNAC to the NEWMAC has been significant.
“There were some GNAC teams last year where I doubted whether half their players could have made high school teams,” Edwards said. “Now we’re in a conference where everyone deserves to be a college basketball player.”
Focus is Essential
Players said they are feeling the pressure of the competition during games and practice, knowing that one mistake can be the difference between a win and a loss.
“Everything we do, we have to do precisely,” Thorpe said. “We can’t have any loose ends. We have to practice tough, make all the easy lay-ups, we’ve got to make all the free throws, we’ve got to do everything so that when it comes time we have a chance to win.”
The highlight of the Lions’ season thus far was a win over reigning national champion Amherst College, then the No. 1-ranked team in the D3hoops.com poll, back on Dec. 7.
“We beat Amherst, so we know we can play with anyone,” Edwards said. “[Head coach Jim O’Brien] tells us it’s about us, it’s not about them.”
Edwards said he is conscious of the pressure to raise his game in the NEWMAC.
“We still have to practice and play harder for sure. We know that the margin for error, the preparation is so much more important,” Edwards said.
More Time to Prepare
Unlike the GNAC, the NEWMAC has specific times when conference games are played, which has allowed Emerson to get into a routine.
“[We play] every Wednesday and Saturday, so that means we have two days to prepare for a team,” Thorpe said. “We get more preparation and we don’t have to worry about having a game the next day after a game. We get to prepare more thoroughly.”
Last season in the GNAC, the Lions had two different stretches where the team had three games in a five-day span.
This season, every conference game has fallen on either a Wednesday or a Saturday, with the exception of Thursday’s game, which was rescheduled due to snowy weather.
Assistant sports editor Mike Lucas, member of the men's basketball team, did not edit this story.