By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — After beating an MIT team last night that came into the game with only one loss, the Salem State men’s basketball team heads into the holiday break with a winning record.
The Vikings had a balanced attack with four players in double figures in an 82-77 victory over the Engineers at Twohig Gymnasium.
The visitors led for most of the first half, but the Vikings (5-4) fought back and led by three at the half, 44-41, after back-to-back baskets by senior guard Tavone Wynder. For the evening, Wynder had a team-high 21 points and nine rebounds.
“MIT is banged up and was playing without two of their guys, but even so this is a good win for us,” said Salem State coach Chris Harvey. “We’ve been working on getting off to a quicker start because we’ve been a second half team all year. We’ve had a brutal schedule, but tonight we took a step forward.”
Hanell Velez, a sophomore forward from Woburn, had 16 points for Salem State, including some clutch baskets in the second half. Captain Nate Simpson was also in double figures with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Justin Nieves had 11 points and four steals. Andrew White added eight points, four assists, five rebounds and five steals.
“We came out in the second half with a sense of urgency,” said Simpson. “We played team basketball; great teams win as a team. Working as individuals only gets you so far. We’ve been doing all the things we need to do as a team with hard work and extra passes to move the ball around.”
MIT had a distinct height advantage and worked to get a man free underneath. Three of its starters are 6-foot-6 or taller including its leading scorer, 6-foot-8 Will Tashman (25 points)..
Point guard Mitchell Kates added 20 points, five assists and three steals for the visitors. Kates had 14 points in the first half, but the Vikings did a better job containing him after intermission.
“Kates is an All-American,” said Harvey. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen at this level. We didn’t stop him tonight, but we were able to do enough.”
It was only a two-point game with the Vikings leading, 60-58, and under 10 minutes remaining when Salem State went on a 13-2 run to put the game away. They did it with excellent defense and clutch shooting by Velez (7 points during the stretch) including a timely three-pointer.
The Vikings stretched the lead to 13 points with two minutes remaining, but the Engineers roared back with six unanswered points to close the game to 73-66 before White made five out of six from the foul line to wrap it up.