Last Saturday marked the season opener for the Engineers, both of them as it happened. In their first contest of the season the RPI Engineers played a very familiar opponent, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Engineers. In a game marked by quick-tempo play and plentiful scoring, RPI lost at East Campus Arena to its conference rival 100-84.
At the start of the game, Rensselaer’s trap defense led to a string of turnovers by the visiting Engineers. This allowed for several easy RPI layups on the other end and a subsequent 24-12 lead for Rensselaer after eight minutes of play.
But WPI learned quickly how to divert the home team’s defense. A pass to either wing and an entry pass to a cutting forward allowed for many easy baskets later in the first half for the visiting team.
Leading Worcester’s attack was a dual threat of point guards Aaron Davis and Luis Garcia, who used their speed and ball-handling ability to bypass the front line of RPI’s hybrid trap and zone defense. By 11:56 into in the first half, the score was tied 30-30.
Then WPI’s Sean Doncaster drilled a 3-pointer to give Worcester its first lead of the afternoon. But the home team quickly regained the lead on a pair of layups by senior guard Nick Keefe and junior guard Ryan Belbey.
Worcester answered with an up-and-under layup by Garcia to give them a 36-34 advantage. Back and forth the teams went, each moving the ball down the court and trying to score quickly; WPI because they to break the Rensselaer trap, and RPI because they hoped to score increase the game’s.
At the end of the first, WPI held the ball for the last shot and scored with three seconds left to go leading 52-40 at the break.
The home town Engineers cut the lead to eight early in the second half when sophomore forward Brian Hatcher hit a three from the wing to make it 53-45 WPI. Once again, the visiting Engineers answered. Baskets by Sam Longwell and Zach Karalis allowed Worcester to open up a 14-point lead with less than 16 minutes to play. An assist from RPI senior guard Pat Harrington to sophomore forward Chase Almond and a put-back layup for freshman guard Nate Kane cut the lead to 10 once more.
The series of runs continued as Worcester scored five unanswered points to obtain a 15-point lead with 12:45 to play. But only 36 seconds later, after a successful layup and foul shot, from freshman guard Jonathan Luster, senior guard Reggie Colas nabbed a defensive rebound and gracefully went coast-to-coast for a quick two points, putting RPI back within 10.
After a layup and defensive rebound by Karalis, WPI’s Doncaster found a spot in the corner and buried a second 3-pointer to put the WPI Engineers back up by 15. Later, with just over 10 minutes left, Worcester’s Karalis scored a successful layup and foul shot of his own, giving WPI an 18 point lead.
Rensselaer continued to push the ball up the court and managed to get an open three from senior guard Sean Dempsey.
WRPI then scores a layup, and Hatcher follows with two free throws. Moments later a turnover by Garcia allowed RPI to get into the paint and score on a put-back two from sophomore forward Craig Fitzgerald with eight minutes remaining.
Later, with six and a half to play, Colas brought the ball up the court following a rebound and assisted a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Tyler Gendron to make it 81-69 WPI. Seconds later, a steal by junior guard/forward Josh Dugas resulted in two free throws by senior guard Nick Keefe to cut the deficit to 10 for the fifth time in the second half.
But this would be the closest RPI got in the final minutes of the game. Free throws by Davis and Karalis, as well as a 3-pointer by Karalis, allowed WPI to build a 90-73 lead. Several plays later, exchanged free throws for each team led to a score of 98-78 with less than three minutes remaining. A corner 3-pointer seconds later by RPI’s Dempsey was the last major highlight of the night as WPI played keep-away for the final two minutes and cemented its 100-84 win on opening day.
Even in defeat, RPI showed encouraging signs. First, its ability to force opposing offenses to turn the ball over will be an asset as the season progresses in its attempts to score quickly. In addition, the outside shooting of Dempsey and Gendron and the agile scoring of Keefe and Colas will allow RPI to score in bunches in tight games later on in the season.
The Engineers (0-2) will face The Sage Colleges in Albany next Tuesday night, November 26 at 8 pm.