CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—It was a tale of two halves Tuesday evening, as UMass Boston's (5-3) second-half comeback effort fell just short against #18 MIT (7-1) 54-44 at the Rockwell Cage.
After a first-half in which the Beacons hit just 17 percent of their shots and turned the ball over 15 times, UMass Boston turned up the pressure and cut the Engineers 16-point halftime lead to as few as five, before a late run by the hosts.
Junior Rahshjeem Benson (Boston, Mass.) led the Beacons with 13 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. The junior forward did the brunt of his damage in the second half with seven points and nine rebounds and added three assists, three steals and two blocks for the game.
Sophomore Vinny DeLucia (Miami, Fla.) joined Benson in double-figures, with all 10 of his points in the second half. Cody Edmond (Plaquemine, La.) added eight points and Mike Mitchell Jr. (Dorchester, Mass.) recorded four points, two rebounds and three assists.
All-American point guard Mitchell Kates scored a game-high 19 points for the Engineers, including hitting the game-clinching shot after missing several minutes of action due to a head injury. Fellow senior Will Tashman grabbed a game-high 18 rebounds and added eight points for the defending NEWMAC Champions.
The Engineers jumped out to a 7-0 lead and held the Beacons scoreless for the first 7:07 with a swarming defense predicated on double-team traps. Even after the Beacons cut the deficit to 14-4 on a Mitchell layup, UMass Boston struggled to get things going.
After the Engineers opened up a first-half-high 16 point lead with 3:42 left in the half, the Beacons went on a mini 5-2 run to cut the deficit to 24-11 with 2:08 to play. MIT answered right back with a 4-0 run to end the half to grab a 27-11 halftime lead.
In the first 20 minutes, the Beacons turned the ball over 15 times and hit just 4-of-23 shots (17.4 percent). MIT struggled to control the ball as well, recording 12 turnovers, but the Engineers hit 40.9 percent of their attempts and knocked down two 3-pointers.
Second-half action would tilt heavily in the Beacons favor as UMass Boston pounded the ball inside and responded with some devastating defense of their own.
MIT opened up the second stanza with back-to-back layups from Matt Redfield and Andrew Acker to open up a game-high 32-11 lead.
That's when DeLucia turned it on. The reigning Little East Conference Rookie of the Year poured in eight straight points on two 3-pointers and a layup to cut the deficit to 32-19.
Another mini Engineers run pushed the lead back to 14, but the Beacons would respond with an 8-0 spurt. Benson started it off with two free throws, before a monster Jahleel Moise (Brockton, Mass.) dunk made it 35-23. UMass Boston finished off the run with a DeLucia jumper and an Edmond lay-in to make it 35-27.
The Beacons cut the deficit to as few as five at 8:14 when Benson followed a 180-reverse dunk in transition, with the second of two free throws to make it 39-34 MIT. But over the next five minutes, MIT held UMass Boston to just an Edmond 3-pointer and extended their lead to 44-37 with under three minutes to go.
UMass Boston would go on to cut the deficit back to six on two separate occasions, but the Engineers knocked down 6-of-7 free throws and Kates hit a crucial fade-away jumper with the shot clock winding down with 37 seconds to go to give MIT an eight-point lead.
For the game, the Beacons hit 30.8 percent (16-of-52) of their shots and 26.7 percent (4-of-15) of their threes. MIT knocked down 39.1 percent (18-of-46) of their shots and went 2-of-11 (18.2 percent) from downtown.
UMass Boston will return to Little East Conference play Saturday when they travel to Keene State for a 3:00 p.m. start.