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Resurgent men’s basketball repays last weekend’s losses

After losing at Emory and Rochester last weekend, a pair of stunning first halves helped the Maroons to some revenge in this weekend's UAA wins.

Photo: Matt Bogen/The Chicago Maroon
Third-year Paul Riskus battles in the post during Sunday’s Rochester game. Riskus got seven rebounds, and Chicago had a 42–28 edge on the boards.

The Emory and Rochester men’s basketball teams have to be wondering who they have just played and what that team did with the Maroon squad that limped home after two harsh losses a week ago.

Seven days ago, the story was one of disappointment: first a brutal 71–44 loss at Emory, then a stinging 76–75 overtime setback at Rochester. This week, the Maroons reversed roles. Chicago dominated most of the weekend, topping the Eagles 73–68 before handling the Yellowjackets 69-34, by far their worst loss of the season.

“Last weekend we played like crap. We were just not ready to go,” fourth-year guard Jake Pancratz said. “This weekend, we started showing our potential of how good we can be. Now, we just need that on a consistent basis.”

En route to two victories that put the squad’s record back above .500, the Maroons played arguably their best first halves of the season. They outscored Emory and Rochester by a 76–36 margin in the first halves of both Friday and Sunday’s games, shooting a combined 53.8 percent.

On Friday night, a week after falling behind by 18 points at the break at Emory, the Maroons jumped out to a 41–20 halftime lead—their biggest of the season—as the Eagles stumbled out of the gates, shooting 23.1 percent for the opening period.

“We didn’t really change much; we just had to buckle down,” Pancratz said. “We just took care of the ball and made shots we knew we could make.”

Even with their torrid start against Emory, the Maroons still showed the importance of consistency. For a long stretch of the second half, it looked like their halftime lead might not be enough.

After looking to the post early, the Maroons struggled to knock down shots in the second half, opening the door for a comeback by the Eagles.

Emory, which is having its best season in 20 years, made things interesting with a 22–6 run midway through the second period courtesy of a barrage of three-pointers. Guard Alex Gulotta brought the Eagles crowd into the game with four treys over a 4:22 span, the last one cutting Chicago’s lead to 59–58 with 4:38 remaining.

“We kept our composure,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “They got us on ours heels, and the way they play, they’re capable of coming from behind…. But we kept our composure and were able to withstand the run.”

Still, the Maroons never quite relinquished their lead. Second-year forward Tom Williams, who recorded his seventh double-double of the season with a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds, sunk seven of 10 free throws over the final 3:30. Emory’s final attempt, a contested layup from guard Austin Caunch, bounced out, and Williams sealed the 73-68 win with three free throws with one second remaining.

A week after a pair of last-second free throws dropped Chicago at Rochester in overtime, the Maroons came out with some more first-half fire Sunday afternoon. The South Siders outpaced Rochester 35–16 over the first 20 minutes, with scoring from eight different players.

This time, the Maroons kept their feet on the gas.

“Against Rochester, that was our main goal,” Pancratz said. “We came out strong, and after halftime we had the mindset that it was 0–0, and we had to win the second half.”

The advantage was never lower than 17 in the second half, and Rochester, a team that hadn’t lost by more than nine all season, fell behind by as many as 29 points late in the game.

All 12 Maroons that dressed scored, with fourth-year John Kinsella’s 12 points pacing Chicago on the offensive end. Pancratz called the performance Chicago’s best of the season.

The Maroons will have one more chance to put together a complete effort on the road next weekend when they head to NYU and Brandeis for the last road trip of the season.

“[This weekend] just shows that if we come out and play the whole game, we can win every game we play,” Pancratz said. “If we finish games, we have a chance to beat anyone.”

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