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Third-ranked MIT gets A in chemistry

By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / February 24, 2012
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As Jamie Karraker stepped to the free throw line, his teammates alongside him, MIT coach Larry Anderson cracked from the sideline of Rockwell Cage, “No pressure . . . game tied, no time left on the clock.’’

Swish.

The quick-paced, 1-hour-20-minute session was done. Off to the weight room, the books, or the lab.

Pressure?

Karraker, a 6-foot-4-inch senior guard, is working on a double major (electrical engineering/computer science and physics) while maintaining a 4.8 grade-point average. Last summer, he interned at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and the company is holding a position for him after he finishes graduate school next year.

Earlier this week, Karraker and 6-9 senior center Noel Hollingsworth were named Academic All-Americans, the ninth and 10th honorees at MIT since 1980.

Karraker, who is from Morgantown, W.Va., via Phillips Exeter Academy, is a 1,000-point career scorer, thanks to a sweet stroke from beyond the arc. He began the week tied for third in Division 3 in 3-pointers per game (3.8).

“These kids, they know that academics is No. 1, but they come here and prove that they are high-quality basketball players as well,’’ said Anderson, who has coached the Engineers for 17 years and has led them to four consecutive 20-win seasons.

“It’s OK to be smart, and a real good basketball player.’’

He has a collection of very smart and very talented basketball players. Together, the academic whizzes have propelled the Engineers to the best season in program history (23-1) and the No. 3 ranking in the nation.

Their one blemish - an 80-68 setback to visiting Worcester Polytechnic Institute Jan. 21 - was exacted in the regular-season finale last week in Worcester, 71-66.

Next up for MIT are the NEWMAC semifinals tomorrow (1 p.m.), when it will host Babson (14-12).

“You watch them play, and you wonder, ‘How are we going to beat those guys?’ ’’ said WPI coach Chris Bartley, whose 18-6 squad will take on Springfield (16-9) in the second semifinal at Rockwell Cage. “I think the stars were aligned for us [in January]. At the time, they were undefeated, and they had had a few days off.’’

The loss “caught us off guard,’’ said junior Will Tashman, a rugged 6-8 forward from Atherton, Calif., who will intern at Apple this summer. “This team has done a good job of taking it one game at a time. Nothing we have done before really matters. We have to play with high intensity and high energy all the time.’’

The Engineers’ singular focus has served them well. There is no talk of the NCAA Division 3 tournament (the 62-team field will be announced Sunday night), though MIT is seemingly a lock to get in, no matter what happens this weekend.

Anderson’s economical approach seems to be the key.

“Less work, more mental preparation,’’ said the coach.

It’s a long season, the players carry a heavy academic load, and practices have been light yet effective.

The Engineers’ starting five have been on the floor for all 24 opening taps, and each player averages double figures in scoring, led by Hollingsworth (17.2).

Their academic excellence and impressive career aspirations aside, the players’ cohesiveness as a unit is right out of the chemistry lab. And rivals who mock the team’s physical ability do so at their own peril.

In high school, Tashman played on a team with Kenny Diekroeger (starting shortstop at Stanford); Dan Hoffman (second singles at Yale); and Jerry Rice Jr. (wide receiver at UCLA). Tashman was the league MVP.

“Coach Anderson didn’t have to pitch MIT to me,’’ he said. “I could not dream of a better place, and we’re on the radar now [as a program].’’

In the post, Hollingsworth, who was sidelined for all but six games last season by shoulder and foot injuries, and Tashman form a formidable duo.

Junior floor leader Mitch Kates (12.5 points, 5 assists per game) slashes to the rim with determination, can create, and drains fadeaways from the perimeter.

“He really has turned into a leader,’’ said Anderson. “Any team would be lucky to have him.’’

Karraker (13.5 ppg) and Bender (10.2 ppg) also keep defenses honest from outside. Off the bench, senior guard Daniel McCue is a study in perseverance after undergoing five procedures on his hip since his senior year at Hampden Academy (Maine).

The Engineers can shoot (50.3 percent from the field) and defend, limiting foes to a 37.4 percent success rate.

All in all, it’s a selfless group to coach.

“For me, it doesn’t get any better than this,’’ said a smiling Anderson. “I get to yell at these guys every day for two hours, and they can’t do anything about it, until they become president of the United States, and that’s a pretty cool job.’’

Or maybe one will follow the lead of David H. Koch (Class of ’62), who graduated as the program’s leading scorer (946 points). He recently presented a $2 million gift to MIT to endow the men’s basketball coaching position, clearly recognizing that his alma mater, under Anderson’s guidance, is a program that has arrived.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.

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