After an upset win over Rhode Island College Friday night, the MIT men's basketball team again looked to do something it never had: advance to the sectional round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
But standing in MIT's way Saturday night was a team -- Farmingdale State -- that had never made it that far either. Unfortunately for the Engineers, it's Farmingdale State that gets to play on after beating MIT, 67-61.
The weekend started off strong for MIT, which fought hard in the waning minutes of Friday night's contest against Rhode Island and took the tight match into overtime. MIT freshman Billy Bender provided the late spark, knocking down four free throws in the final minute of regulation to send it to overtime, then came up with a steal, a key offensive rebound and two more free throws to help MIT stun the nationally ranked Anchormen, 73-68.
Trailing 30-22 at the start of the second period, the Engineers received a huge boost from an unexpected source: their fans. Two busloads of MIT fans packed the Murray Center during halftime and greeted the Engineers with a thunderous applause that lasted for the duration of the contest. With MIT's faithful drowning out hometown crowd, the Engineers reeled off the first eight points of the half to tie the game.
Senior star Jimmy Bartolotta, who started quietly in the first half, rebounded to finish with a game-best 27 points. Senior Billy Johnson added 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and a game-high 11 rebounds, while freshman Jamie Karraker chipped in 10. Bender closed with nine points as the Engineers shrugged off an eight-point halftime deficit to equal the program record for wins in a season (21).
Saturday's contest proved to be a battle of conference players of the year, with Bartolotta and Farmingdale State's Damien Santana combining for the game's first 18 points and keeping the game knotted up, 9-9, after just two minutes.
The Engineers took the lead, 10-9, on a free throw by Johnson at 15:07 and held the advantage for the next 12:51. MIT built a seven-point advantage, 22-15, following a Bartolotta three at 8:21.
Despite falling behind, the Rams closed out the half on an 18-4 run to take a seven-point advantage into halftime at 33-26. In the second, MIT whittled the deficit down to two points, 43-41, with 13:34 left behind its potent perimeter shooting. Karraker sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a Bartolotta three during the run.
With slightly more than a minute remaining, MIT was able to cut the deficit down to two points, 63-61. That, however, would be as close as the Engineers would get as Farmingdale nailed two pairs of free throws down the stretch.
Bartolotta led all scorers with 27 points, to go along with seven rebounds and two assists. Karraker scored all 12 of his points over the final 20 minutes, while Johnson grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Senior guard Bradley Gampel contributed four points, six rebounds and a game-high seven assists.
MIT tri-captains Bartolotta, Gampel and Johnson close out their college careers as the best senior class in the history of the MIT men's basketball program. The trio paced MIT to a four-year best 68 wins, while securing the program's first NEWMAC championship and first NCAA tournament berth.
Bartolotta retires with a plethora of Institute records, including 2,279 career points and 184 career steals. He also ranks third in career blocks, fifth in career assists, and sixth in career rebounds, while leaving as the top three-point and free-throw shooter.
Gampel, who set single-season MIT records for assists (207) and steals (80), ranks third all-time in assists, and second to Bartolotta in steals with 183.
Johnson enjoyed a stellar senior campaign and finished the year with 836 career points despite seeing limited time as a rookie and missing nearly all of his sophomore seasonÂ due toÂ injury.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 11, 2009 (download PDF).