Sports Wheaton

Lyons Comeback Falls Short, Season Ends at the Hands of Emerson 

Last Tuesday night, in front of a packed Emerson Gymnasium, the men’s basketball season came to a screeching halt in the first round of the New England Women’s and Men’s Conference Championship Tournament. Despite a valiant surge with under nine to play, the No. 6 seeded Emerson College held out against the No. 3 seeded Wheaton College (Mass.) to secure an 88-75 triumph.

In the regular season, Wheaton got the better of the Boston ball club twice. In almost every sport, beating the same team three times in the same season is not a straightforward task. Just ask the 2022 San Francisco 49ers. The Lyons are still looking for their first conference tournament win since February 27, 2008, when they upset Clark University as the No. 7 seed in the first round.

Six of the seven Lions that entered the contest for coach Bill Curley amassed a double-digit scoring total. Sophomore Brendan McNamara (Arlington, MA), Emerson’s most efficient three-point shooter, led the way. He canned three shots from beyond the arc en route to a team-high 18-point outing, tying his second-highest scoring total against a NEWMAC opponent this year.

Wheaton came out of the gate in control, holding a five-point lead with 11:28 to go in the opening half. Consecutive three balls by sophomores Eoin Morrissey (Watertown, Mass.) and Sal Pedevillano (Parsippany, N.J.) captained an 11-2 blitz to propel the No. 3 seed to that advantage. Bill Curley’s men responded, netting four straight shots from the great beyond. Two of them off the fingertips of sophomore guard Jacob Armant (Arlington, Texas). The Lyon’s offense hit a dry spell as Emerson’s defense held the home side scoreless for nearly four and a half minutes. At the same time, its offense ran off 16 straight. McNamara’s influence was all over the final minutes of the first half, contributing to five of the Lions’ last seven points. Morrissey and Pedevillano combined for eight points in the final five minutes to keep the Norton outfit within 10 at the break.

Emerson picked up right where it left off after the first 20 minutes, outscoring Brian Walmsley’s men 30-18 in the opening 10:52. Freshman Guillermo Gasset Ruiz (Malaga, Spain) was sensational on both ends during this stretch. He racked up eight points, five assists, a steal, and a rebound during that run to give Emerson complete control of the ball game. But The Lyons, who won 15 games for the first time since the 2017/18 campaign, did not go down without a fight. 

Down by 22 with 9:08 left to play in the contest, Wheaton went on an 18-1 run,  spearheaded by four threes, including two from first-year guard Dimetri Iafrate (Johnston, R.I.). A Khaled Thaher (Amman, Jordan) layup cut the Emerson advantage to five with 4:48 left in the contest. But five was the closest the Lyons managed to get, as the outfit from Boston regrouped to perform a 10-4 run that ultimately put the contest to bed.

Wheaton’s loss was its fifth in the last seven games against the Lions on its own hardwood. Emerson advanced to the final four of the competition, eventually falling on Thursday evening to the No. 2 seeded Clark by eight points in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Walmsley’s crew aims to get over that quarterfinal hump next season, losing just one player, Jaden Keliher (Amesbury, Mass.) to graduation. Keliher was a critical piece to the Lyons’ success in 2023/24, amassing career-highs across the board. He concluded his career in Norton with an average of 3.1 points per game in 58 contests played.

From the beginning, the reality of Wheaton hosting a playoff game for a second successive season was a long shot in the eyes of the onlookers. In fact, the NEWMAC had the Lyons tied for seventh in its pre-season coaches poll in October. The Norton side shattered expectations. With program legend Alex DuBrow on the sideline for his first campaign as an assistant, Wheaton finished with a 15-10 record with 10 of those wins in the confines of Emerson Gymnasium and the conference’s second-best defense.