Photo Gallery | MCLA-WPI Men's Basketball
NORTH ADAMS — There are no moral victories in college basketball, not even when a team has played as tough a schedule as the MCLA men have over the last three weeks.
The Trailblazers played their second Top-20 opponent since Thanksgiving, and gave 18th-ranked Worcester Polytechnic Institute all it could handle. But in the end, the Engineers pulled away to win 84-69 in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday night at the Amsler Campus Center Gymnasium.
"It's hard to talk about [the outcome] right now," said MCLA's Khalil Paul, who had a career night with 36 points. "We just play hard. That's what we try to do from the get-go, play hard in every game. No matter who it is, the No. 1 team in the country or the No. 18 team in the country, we want to play hard."
The Trailblazers (2-6) missed two starters who account for 20 points per game. Paul Maurice and Adam Conquest sat due to injuries. Both are, however, expected to be ready to roll when the second semester comes.
Paul, who had six rebounds and a steal, was 12 of 20 from the floor, 7 of 12 from 3-point range and 5 for 6 from the foul line. He was helped out by Joe Wiggins, who had 12 points and seven rebounds while Dakari Hannah-Wornum had 11 points, eight boards and three blocked shots.
The Engineers dominated the boards, outrebounding the Trailblazers 51-32. Ian Converse, who came off the bench to score 16 for WPI, had a game-high 15 rebounds. Clyde Niba scored 18 points and had eight rebounds.
"We'll take it. They can score. [MCLA coach Tony Skiffington] does a real good job," WPI coach Chris Bartley said. "I know they have two of their best players out. It goes to show you the depth of talent they have.
"We're a young team and we're trying to figure it out. I thought our inside size was a little too much for them to handle."
Part of that was because Hannah-Wornum and Joe Wiggins both picked up two early fouls in the first half. Wiggins only played four minutes in the opening 20,
MCLA took a 13-10 lead on a basket by Hannah-Wornum, but WPI answered with a 9-0 run and never trailed again.
The Engineers were up 46-36 at halftime and led by as many as 12 before the Trailblazers made one last run.
It was 61-49 when the Trailblazers went on an 8-0 run. Wiggins started it by making 3 of 4 from the line and Paul closed it when he caught a pass from Collin Parrott for a 3-point basket to make it 61-57 with 9:43 to go. It turned out to be the last field goal MCLA made until Paul hit a 3-ball with 1:19 left, and the game pretty much decided.
But the shot that slammed the door shut on MCLA's hope for an upset of the No. 18 team in the nation came with 4:52 left and the score 65-61. Sean Doncaster (13 points) caught a pass from Aaron Davis and swished a shot from deep for 3 points. That made it 68-61, and that was that.
The Engineers iced the victory by going 12 for 12 from the foul line over the last 4 minutes of the game.
"Even though they scored 84 points, defensively, I thought we played pretty hard," said Skiffington. "Offensively, our execution has to be better and it will be. We don't have two of our starters and it was a close game."
Up next for the Trailblazers is a Saturday game against Southern Vermont in the first round of the Tri-State Shootout at RPI. MCLA lost 102-72 in the season opener to the Mountaineers from Bennington.
"Other than Southern Vermont, where I wasn't ready and I didn't have these guys ready and NYU who are [14th] in the country and that's well-deserved. That's by far the best team we've played," said Skiffington. "WPI, they're ranked. Wesleyan, we could have beat them down there. We could have beat Willliams here. Those are all high-quality teams, and we're playing with them.
"I think we're going in the right direction. Come time for conference, we're going to be ready for anything that comes at us."