For the first five minutes of Friday night’s 67–53 loss to UW–Stevens Point in the first round of the NCAA D-III tournament, the men’s basketball team looked like champions.
On the heels of a victory over Wash U that gave the program its sixth UAA title, the Maroons (18–8) looked hungry for a national championship, tallying the first 17 points of Friday’s contest.
“I think we came out with a lot of energy and just didn’t miss,” fourth-year forward Nate Hainje said. “The first six minutes, it seemed every shot we took was going in.”
But the Maroons would soon find out the hard way that all good things come to an end.
Down 17–0 just 5:35 into the game, the Pointers (23–6) staged a 21–2 run over the next 12:05. After his team waited more than six minutes to get one off the board, third-year forward Bryan Beamish scored 12 of his 26 points for Stevens Point before Chicago was able to sink another field goal.
“We cooled down a little bit, and Stevens Point stepped up their defense and really shut us down for a long time,” Hainje said.
Meanwhile, the Maroons’ starting core suffered through foul trouble, with Hainje and third-year guard Matt Corning each picking up two early fouls that sent them to the bench.
“Playing without our top two scorers for that stretch really made things tough offensively,” third-year forward Adam Machones said.
Hainje and Corning would combine for just 51 minutes on the night, a steep drop from the 75 combined minutes the pair played in the UAA championship game.
“That’s unusual for us this year. I think it’s the first time we’ve had all those guys in foul trouble…” McGrath said. “We got into foul trouble, they started playing very well, and it sort of steamrolled from there.”
Trailing by five with 40 seconds remaining in the first half, Chicago seemed to slow the Pointers’ momentum with an old-fashioned three-point play from second-year guard John Bonelli. However, a buzzer-beating three gave second-year guard Ross Rortvedt his only points of the half and put Stevens Point up by five heading into the locker room.
“Basically what I was hoping was if we start the second half strong….We took their charge and we’re down two, so it’s anybody’s ballgame,” McGrath said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
A three-pointer five and a half minutes into the second half gave Stevens Point a nine-point margin, at that point its largest lead of the night, but Machones keyed a quick 7–0 run to pull Chicago within two at 41–39.
Trailing by no more than six over the next nine minutes, Chicago climbed to within one point with just under 13 minutes remaining and two points with five and a half left. Still, the Maroons were unable to reclaim control of the game.
“We weren’t down by that much but we just couldn’t get stops on D,” Machones said. “It’s demoralizing and hard to cut into a lead when they take 30 seconds off of the shot clock and end up getting layups every possession.”
A 10–0 run by the Pointers sent Chicago to a 63–51 deficit spelled doom for the Maroons, who did not register a field goal after the 7:45 mark.
“The guys never stopped fighting,” McGrath said. “It never really did get out of hand. They just closed out strong on us. We ran out of time as much as anything.”
The Maroon’s three-point shooting told the story, as the Maroons sunk a season-low four threes on only 14 attempts, another season low.
“We are usually successful when we get open looks from three,” Machones said. “They knew this and did a good job of taking the three ball away.”
Third-year guard Matt Corning, the Maroons’ regular-season scoring leader, paced Chicago with 15 points on 4-for-11 shooting, while Hainje picked up his 10th career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Second-year guard Jake Pancratz, who also struggled from and fouled with 1:20 remaining, scored just five points on 1-for-8 shooting, including 1-for-5 mark from three-point territory.
“I had a lot of fun coaching this group of guys. They have a special team chemistry…” McGrath said. “Unfortunately you always have to lose one at the end, unless you win the whole thing, and I don’t think that reflects on the season we had.”
Hainje, the 2008 UAA Player of the Year, ends his career with 1,119 points (ranked 11th in University history), 588 rebounds (seventh), 268 assists (fifth), 146 three-pointers (sixth), and 211 free throws (tied for tenth).
“I think we all wish we were still playing, but looking back on the year, I think it was a perfect senior season,” Hainje said. “At one point, we were 7–5 and 0–1 in conference, and to come from that point to finish the way we did, I think it says a lot about the heart of our team, and I am really thankful that I got to be a part of a team like that. I think next year’s team has the ability to be even better than this year’s team was.”