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MIT men geared for NCAA tourney run

There are no seniors on Larry Anderson’s NCAA Division 3 tournament-bound men’s basketball team at MIT.

Yet, with a starting lineup featuring three sophomores and two juniors, and facing a win-or-go-home task, the Engineers battled their way through the NEWMAC tournament. First, they took down host WPI, 64-46, Saturday, showcasing the grit of the nation’s best defensive squad (54.9 points per game). And in Sunday’s final, MIT rode a 19-point, 13-rebound effort from 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Andrew Acker to a 67-56 win over Springfield to earn its sixth straight NCAA tourney bid.

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MIT (20-8), one of 14 programs in New England to be seeded in the 62-team men’s field (including fellow NEWMAC members Babson, Springfield, and WPI), will face host Plattsburgh State (22-5) in a first-round matchup Friday night.

“Four in speaks to the depth [of the NEWMAC] and how much our conference is respected across the country,” said Anderson. “And we’re more than satisfied.

“We came up with a process that we thought would be best for us in the long run to stick with. And part of it was becoming one of the best defensive teams in the country. And becoming a great rebounding team. And then taking care of the basketball.”

The Engineers leaned heavily on Acker (“He was getting rebounds in traffic with players hanging all over him,” said Anderson) and fellow 6-8 junior Matt Redfield (14 points, 14 rebounds Saturday). All five starters went 33-plus minutes Saturday, while four starters were on the floor for 34-plus Sunday. “Keep them fresh,” said Anderson, who gave his players Monday night off, but expected the majority to be on the court to stay loose.

Conference champions Albertus Magnus (26-2, Great Northeast Athletic), Amherst (24-3, NESCAC), Bridgewater State (16-11, MASCAC), Gordon (17-10, Commonwealth Coast), Husson (26-2, North Atlantic), Mitchell (19-7, New England Collegiate), and Rhode Island College (20-8, Little East) received automatic bids. Bowdoin (19-5), Eastern Connecticut State (22-6), and Williams (23-4) nabbed at-large selections.

In the Division 3 women’s field, Tufts earned its first automatic berth after capturing the program’s first NESCAC title with a 62-46 win over Amherst Sunday. The Jumbos (26-1) will host Great Northeast champ St. Joseph’s of Maine (23-5) in a first-round game Friday night.

“A lot of hard work went into winning [the NESCAC title],” said Tufts coach Carla Berube. “But now it is one-and-done, and we have to prepare.”

In the women’s field, conference champs Bridgewater State (16-11, MASCAC), Castleton State (25-3, North Atlantic), University of New England (26-2, Commonwealth Coast), Regis (23-4, New England Collegiate), Rhode Island College (20-8, Little East), and Springfield (17-11, NEWMAC) also received automatic bids, while Amherst (24-3), Bowdoin (21-6), Roger Williams (22-6), and Williams (20-5) secured at-large spots.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.
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