By Matt Noonan
WORCESTER, MA – What exactly makes March Madness so enticing and leaving fans wanting more? Could it be the last minute heroics or possibly a game winning shot? How about two great teams battling it out on a historic court in Worcester, Massachusetts?
Well, take all of those questions and apply it to an exciting game on Friday, where fans witnessed Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) senior guard, Jeffery Robinson, launch possibly the biggest shot in his college career with 14.5-seconds remaining in the game that secured the Engineers an impressive 57-56 victory against Bridgewater State University during the opening round of the Men’s Division III NCAA tournament. Not only is this particular win special, but it allows the WPI championship dreams to continue another day.
“It’s just something you just have to step up and make that shot,” said Robinson. “We were struggling a lot from the floor tonight, but it’s a big shot.”
“It is just great to see things culminate in a positive way for Jeff Robinson. The kid has struggled over the last month really and for him to hit a shot like that in a NCAA game is just a great feeling for him and everybody,” said WPI head coach Chris Bartley.
The game began at a rather fast pace, almost too fast, as both WPI and Bridgewater State attacked each others defense by launching shot after shot. The Engineers eventually took a small lead, thanks to an early foul, which sent Robinson to the line, but eventually, the Bears responded and took the lead for a majority of the first half. Yet, the lead slowly started going back and fourth due to turnovers, as both squads tallied 25-turnovers during the opening 20-minutes.
“Obviously turnovers were the story of the game, I think for both teams. The thing I would say is what we were able to do [was] defend them, keep them under 40 percent [from the field], keep them at 57-points, they average about 83-84-points a game and that to me was the bottom line,” said Bartley.
“I thought the turnovers [were an issue] too,” said Bridgewater State University head coach Joe Farroba. “When you score 57-points that’s an awful lot of turnovers in a 57-point game. For me that was an issue.”
However, what made for such an exciting first half was the back and fourth battle between Robinson and Bridgewater State’s senior guard, Judah Jackson, who finished the game with 21-points, three assists, six rebounds and six steals. Jackson kept his team in the game and was completely devastated to see his teams run toward a championship fall short, yet again.
“This is what we live for [and] this is what we play for,” said Jackson. “We’ve been in this situation more than enough times, so it was very natural out there and we didn’t become flustered when it went back in fourth.”
Entering the second half, both teams continued to share the lead, but the game slowly turned to shooting foul shots, instead of driving into the paint. Bridgewater State struggled from the line, especially down the stretch, as they converted [8-15] free throws compared to WPI, who finished [16-21]. While the free throws continued to hamper the Bears offense, their defense fell apart during the closing minutes, as they allowed WPI to set up Robinson’s game winning shot.
The Bears did however have nearly 10-seconds to win the game, but mishandled the ball and resorted to hulking up a long shot before the buzzer sounded.
“This is a team that’s been to this game [in prior years],” said Farroba. “I’ve got a group of kids, we’ve been coming to this game. We’ve been to the Sweet Sixteen [and] we know what this game’s about. We have the experience and play in it and just didn’t finish it up, didn’t close it out.”
With the win, WPI will return to comforts of their home court on Saturday, as they will face a very competitive foe, Amherst College at 7:00pm eastern. With a win, Amherst or WPI would then advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.
“Its just about who goes out there and get’s it more,” said Robinson. “It’s the type of game where it gives us a great opportunity to go up against a national powerhouse. We’re just excited and we’re going to make the most of it tomorrow.”