Mitch Kates senses a difference during warmups this season.
"The clapping is really up [from the other team's huddle], we know that we are going to get everyone's best shot," said Kates, the poised junior floor leader for the undefeated MIT men's basketball team, ranked third in this week's Division 3 poll.
On Saturday afternoon, host Babson dug in defensively against the Engineers in their NEWMAC matchup at Staake Gymnasium, closing to within six, 61-55, on a pair of free throws from Matt Palazini (team-high 17 points) with 4:11 remaining.
However, Kates knifed in for a steal on the Beavers' next possession and finished it off with a soaring layup at the other end of the court for an 8-point spread.
The Engineers then converted nine of 12 free throws in the final three minutes to salt away a 72-63 victory, their 16th straight to start the season, breaking a 50-year-old program mark for consecutive wins set by the 1961-62 squad.
The 6-foot-3 Kates, who prepped at Phillips Exeter, was magnificent in 39 minutes and 31 seconds on the floor, delivering a game-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
His step- back trey with 8 seconds left in the first half handed the Engineers five-point cushion, 37-32, at the break. He provided the two points for MIT in the first 5 minutes of the second half -- draining a pair of free throws -- before senior guard Jamie Karriker (3 of 3) drained a triple from the left wing. Later, he posted up for two and buried a fadeaway jumper from the foul line on back-to-back possessions to keep the Engineers in gear.
"He's the engine that makes us go," said MIT coach Larry Anderson. "He wants to get everyone involved. But he also knows, 'this is my team. I need to step up and do something. He tailor's his game to fit the players around him."
Rugged junior forward Will Tashman supplied 16 points and seven rebounds, while 6-9 junior Noel Hollingsworth (16 points) was a perfect 10 for 10. Forward Billy Bender added 11.
"Tip your hat to them, they do a great job of featuring their scorers," said Babson coach Steve Brennan, who squad dropped to 8-8 after a 7-0 start.
"Even though Hollingsworth had a bad shooting night (3 of 13), he was still 10 for 10 on free throws, and that is a big deal. I thought we made him work hard.
"But the key was Kates. If he had a mismatch, he got to the rim. He had a big 3. And at the critical juncture, at 61-55, we throw the ball in for what we think is a layup, and we bobble it, Kates gets it, goes to the other end. and we're down 8. He's very opportunistic.
MIT has nearly a week to prepare for a visit from WPI on Saturday afternoon.
"Any time you play a NEWMAC game, it's going to be a brawl," said Anderson.
"[Games like today] are good for us, because it gives us things that we can go back and work on. ... and you get better. [Babson] exposed some things today.
"We want to remain humble, and hungry."
Follow Craig Larson on Twitter @GlobeLars.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell