March 6, 2009
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – MIT freshman Billy Bender’s legacy as a clutch performer continues to grow. The rookie knocked down four free throws in the final minute to send Friday’s NCAA Tournament First Round game to overtime before coming up with a steal, a key offensive rebound, and two more free throws in the extra session as MIT stunned nationally-ranked No. 17 Rhode Island College, 73-68, in RIC’s Murray Center.
Senior star Jimmy Bartolotta rebounded from a quiet first half to finish with a game-best 27 points. 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 (21-8).
“I’m so proud of our players,” said head coach Larry Anderson. “Our preparation was excellent and our defense really stepped up in the second half. It’s misleading to think Rhode Island College doesn’t have a go-to guy. They [sic] have a lot of go-to guys. I was proud to see our student-athletes maintain their focus despite facing a well-coached and incredibly athletic team.”
Rhode Island College (23-6) relied on its athleticism to carve up the MIT defense in the opening half. Forcing 16 MIT turnovers, the Anchormen enjoyed 12 extra possessions, while scoring nine of their 12 first-half field goals in the paint. RIC also benefitted from an outstanding defensive effort by Little East Conference Player of the Year Bobby Bailey, who prevented Bartolotta from seeing any open looks during the opening frame. After surrendering a 15-2 run to the Engineers early in the half, the Anchormen closed the stanza with a 22-3 run in the last eight minutes.
Trailing 30-22 at the start of the second period, the Engineers received a huge boost from an unlikely source. Their fans. Two MIT fan buses packed the Murray Center during halftime and greeted the Cardinal and Gray with a thunderous applause that lasted for the duration of the contest. With MIT’s faithful drowning out the cheers of the hometown crowd, the Engineers reeled off the first eight points of the half to tie the game. Johnson connected on a three during Tech’s first possession, while Bartolotta followed up with another three to erase the seemingly insurmountable deficit.
The tilt remained tight throughout the remainder of the second half, with RIC’s Mason Choice converting a lay-up to give the Anchormen a 51-49 lead with 1:20 on the clock. Four consecutive free throws by Bender gave MIT a 53-51 lead with five seconds to go, but Bailey was fouled on his way to the basket in the final second, and his answer at the charity stripe sent MIT’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game to overtime.
In the bonus session, Bartolotta drained deep three’s on back-to-back possessions, but Karraker delivered the decisive blow with a three off a Bender offensive rebound that moved MIT in front, 64-59, with 2:16 left. Rhode Island College made several desperation shots in a hope to keep its season alive, but Bartolotta and the Engineers sealed the victory at the free-throw line.
RIC was led by Bailey, who finished with 16 points, while Choice added 12 and Cameron Stewart scored 11. The Anchormen were just 6-of-25 from three-point range while MIT made 10 of 23, including all three attempts in overtime.
MIT advances to the second round and will face Farmingdale State on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Murray Center. The Rams defeated the University of New England, 90-73, in the night cap.