Basketball has come back to Chicago, and so far, all is well.
Men’s basketball (2–0) opened the season with a commanding sweep of the Midway Classic, defeating Earlham 84–71 in the opener, then knocking off Rose-Hulman 79–60 to win the championship game. The unblemished start was a welcome change from the beginning of last season, when the Maroons lost both tournament games, and, eventually, their first 12 games of the year.
“It was very important for us to get off to a good start this year,” said head coach Mike McGrath. “I felt like we established the tone and tenor for what we wanted to be: a team that works hard and plays together.”
The Maroons showcased a balanced inside-outside offense, with multiple players scoring in double figures.
Second-year forward Steve Stefanou, the eventual tournament MVP, paced the team with 18 points and 10 rebounds against Earlham. Stefanou had plenty of help from fourth-year Jake Pancratz, who put in 16 points and five assists, and second-year Matt Johnson, who came off the bench and dropped 17 points to go along with his four assists.
Earlham was a noticeably smaller squad than the Maroons, and while the Quakers had some early success pushing the ball and scoring in transition, they were eventually overwhelmed inside. With the score tied at 6–6 and 15:05 left in the first period, Chicago hit a flurry of lay-ups over a span of two minutes, taking a 17–8 lead by the 12:52 mark.
From that point forward, whenever Earlham started to make a comeback, the Maroons answered, stamping out the runs with good cuts inside, or offensive put-backs. Chicago was up 47–28 at the half, and led by at least 11 throughout the entirety of the second period. They finished with a 43-27 rebounding edge.
Playing against Rose-Hulman on Sunday, the Maroons showed an impressive touch from the outside. Steve Stephanou demonstrated his versatility, stepping out from the paint to nail three-pointers on two of his three tries. He finished with 16 points, sharing team-high honors with fourth-year John Kinsella, who shot a blistering 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
After falling behind 10–2 four minutes into the contest, Chicago reeled off an 18–2 run, highlighted by back-to-back threes from Pancratz and second-year Chase Davis. The lead was up to 15 at the half, and, as in the Earlham game, the Maroons maintained a big advantage throughout the second half. The team finished 14-of-28 from three-point range.
Besides from Stefanou, the rest of the Maroons front line also contributed notable performances. Second-year Tom Williams had 10 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double, and third-year Paul Riskus and fourth-year Marek Kowalewski provided quality minutes off the bench. The two games were a promising beginning for the relatively inexperienced front-court, which has no returning starters from last year.
“Our forwards this year are a physically strong group, and they work very, very hard,” McGrath said. “Our front line will continue to improve as [Williams] and [Stefanou] evolve as players.”
Right now, though, McGrath has a rather immediate goal for his team: They need to commit fewer fouls. The Maroons were whistled for 24 fouls against Earlham, and then 22 against Rose-Hulman. Many of the Maroons’ big men were hampered by early foul trouble.
“A lot of it has to do with age and inexperience right now,” McGrath said, “but it’s definitely something we need to work on right away.”