By Peter McClelland
(Wenham) Another strong finish under veteran leadership pushed the Gordon College Fighting Scots past an excellent Massachusetts Institute of Technology team, 78-71, to once again capture the Gordon Tip-Off tournament before a good crowd at the Bennett Center on Saturday night.
The Scots have had this tournament for three years and have yet to lose a game in it.
Junior Justin Kaufman was named MVP of the tournament. Justin scored a lot of points in both games but so did a number of other players. The difference was that Justin controlled the tempo for the tournament winner. He faced constant full-court pressure in both games and despite long minutes had few turnovers. “It’s nice to have a guy who controls the basketball,” said Gordon Coach Mike Schauer afterwards.
“This was a game of runs,” explained MIT coach Larry Anderson. And right he was but surprisingly this game had only four lead changes. Once a team got the lead they held onto it for a while.
Fortunately for Gordon they once again got the lead at the end finishing strong. The specifics for that ending include the fact that MIT was up 69-66 with 3:09 left after Mike Schnackenberg fouled out and Engineer high scorer Alex Krull (22 points) make both free throws. Thereafter the Scots went on a 12-2 run to win. A 3-point play the hard way by a driving Jerry Logan tied the score followed by a long-range three by Mike Herr that put Gordon in front, 72-69, to stay with just under two minutes left. Erich Bracht answered with a layup just as the 35 second clock went off but that ended MIT scoring for the night. Six consecutive free throws by Jon Marstaller, Mike Herr, and Aaron Tripp sealed this one for the Scots.
“Gordon is extremely well coached and they made more plays down the stretch and were more composed than we were,” said Coach Anderson. “We are a young team (one senior) and I was proud of the way we hung in there.”
Anyone on hand for the start of this game would have had serious misgivings about the Scots chances. Consider that after 3:40 had been played Gordon was trailing, 13-0! MIT wasn’t missing and they had already defended the Scots into four turnovers.
“It may sound strange,” said Coach Schauer, “but it really was a blessing in disguise to get down 13-0 and feel like we were about to get blown out. It forced us to compete and prove that we can be a good team.”
Gordon was good enough to respond with a 22-5 run over seven minutes thanks to hot outside shooting and take over the lead, 22-18. Justin Kaufman and Mike Herr both nailed a couple of three’s and sophomore Tim DeLuca had one also. The Engineers rallied to tie things at 30 near the end of the half thanks to a three by promising sophomore Billy Johnson.
A 13-2 surge early in the second half sent Gordon to a commanding, 43-32, advantage. MIT, like Mount Ida the night before, refused to quit. Senior Alex Krull put the MIT team on his back making layups, a 3-point shot, and a number of foul shots to bring the Engineers all the way back and even ahead. However, on this occasion Gordon had the veterans available to lead a successful rally that turned into win #2.
“MIT is really good,” said Coach Schauer. “I started to think last year that we had a chance to be a good team when we beat them on the road. If they were in our conference (Commonwealth Coast Conference) they would have a very good chance of winning it.”
Mike Herr led all scorers with 26 points including six three’s. “How many of those big 3’s has he made?” asked Coach Schauer. “He likes to take the big shot and it’s surprising when he misses.”
Justin Kaufman collected 20 points while Jon Marstaller contributed 14 points and 3 steals in long minutes.
Alex Krull (22 points) paced MIT. Others in double figures for MIT were; Billy Johnson (15), Erich Bracht (14), and Jimmy Bartolotta (13).
Coach Schauer had praise for Tim DeLuca afterwards: “I thought he really struggled against Mount Ida. I didn’t know how he’d respond to not playing a lot of minutes because I was frustrated with him. I thought tonight he came back with a much better effort. One of my favorite things in this business is when kids respond to challenges and he did.”…………Jon Marstaller kept his fouling and opinions to a minimum and was a significant factor in the win……….The Blue Sea looked to be a bit understaffed. Could some of them have chosen a concert over a tournament final? Let’s get our priorities straight!……….The consolation game was one of the worst routs I have ever witnessed as Middlebury beat Mount Ida like a drum, 120-61………….Fatigue was certainly a factor as both Gordon and MIT got off a number of air balls and some other clear misses……………Freshman Brady Bajema got some first half minutes and seemed to know his way around defensively……….Another Freshman – Aaron Trigg – put in 18 minutes and showed a nice spin move from the left that added two points in the second half………….Gordon’s next game is on the road Tuesday evening (7PM) in Pennsylvania against Philadelphia Biblical University. I’m hoping to attend and then spend Thanksgiving in the area with relatives. Finding a way to send out the game story could be something of a challenge, though.