Season off to slow start as men’s basketball suffers two surprise losses at Classic

High hopes for the men’s basketball team met low production at the Midway Classic, as the 22nd-ranked Maroons fell in two upset losses this weekend.

By Jake Grubman

[img id=”77011″ align=”alignleft”] High hopes for the men’s basketball team met low production at the Midway Classic, as the 22nd-ranked Maroons fell in two upset losses this weekend.

Chicago opened the season Saturday night against Edgewood (1–1) and fell victim to an early deficit that the Maroons couldn’t erase, losing the opener 101–93. The following night, an upstart IIT (1–3) squad surprised the South Siders with a 70–68 win in overtime.

Jumping out to a quick lead, the young Edgewood roster, which starts two first-years and two second-years, took advantage of a Maroon squad struggling to find its rhythm. The Eagles built a 28–15 lead midway through the first half.

“Overall, we were on our heels early,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “Once we fell behind, we were kind of scattered. We were in this frantic scramble mode trying to get back, and I think we kind of got freaked when we fell behind.”

A flat Maroon squad capitalized on Edgewood’s foul trouble by tallying 16 free throws in the first half, but it was the Eagles’ 67.7-percent shooting from the field that put Chicago in a deep hole in the season’s opening period.

The Eagles flirted with an insurmountable advantage, establishing a 39–22 lead at the 5:23 mark, but third-year guards John Bonelli and Jake Pancratz traded threes over the next minute and a half, cutting the Edgewood lead to 10 before entering the break down by 12.

The lead hovered around 10 for much of the next half, as Chicago found fourth-year guard Matt Corning in the post on numerous occasions. Playing nearly the entire half, Corning worked his way to the free throw line 11 times and scored 19 in the stanza. He led the Maroons with 24 on the day.

With Edgewood leading by 10 and the clock ticking down to under a minute, the Maroons used some quick scoring to tip the lead to five with 41 seconds left.

Two Edgewood free throws gave way to a three-point play for Corning, getting the Maroons within four with 27 seconds remaining. The Eagles, however, sunk nine of their last 10 free throws down the stretch, holding off Chicago for the 101–93 win.

“I just think we needed to come out and play harder, and compete more,” McGrath said. “We just got a little too frazzled; we needed to play with a higher energy level and play more focused.”

The Maroons looked for a faster start Sunday against IIT, a team coming off a loss to Kenyon Saturday night.

The underlying storyline of the day saw the Maroons meet former Chicago player and assistant coach Rusty Loyd, now head coach for the Scarlet Hawks. The current fourth-year class was Loyd’s last as a recruiter for Chicago, and the Maroons greeted their former coach with smiles before the game.

“Their coach knows our system and our personnel very well, and I thought he had his team prepared well to take away our strengths,” McGrath said.

The underdog Scarlet Hawks played more closely than expected, always staying within reach of the hosts. Foul trouble struck for Chicago, forcing both Pancratz and Corning to the bench early in the game, and the Maroons struggled from the field with a shooting percentage of just 28.6 percent.

Heading into the half tied at 25, McGrath looked to make some shifts in the stagnant offense, but instead saw the Scarlet Hawks use a 10–3 run to take the lead in the opening minutes of the period. Corning picked up his fourth foul midway through the half, forcing the Maroons’ reserves to attempt a run at an IIT lead that grew to 48–37 at the 9:58 mark.

Chicago was able to chip away at the lead over the next few minutes, finding itself with one last opportunity, down 59–57 with 26 seconds left.

With the clock winding down, first-year Matt Johnson stepped back for a deep jumper with 13 seconds left. His feet were on the three-point line, but the two points were good enough to send the game to overtime.

The bonus period saw third-year guard Rob Knapczyk sink a quick three, once again putting the Scarlet Hawks ahead.

“Once we got into overtime, I thought it was a good thing for us,” McGrath said. “Then once they hit the first three, we could never get back into it.”

A six-point deficit with 1:46 remaining had the Maroons on the verge of their second loss, but a short rally closed the gap to one with 31 seconds left. Corning then found an opening from the baseline, a jumper that would have put Chicago ahead, but his shot rimmed out.

After one free throw by the Scarlet Hawks, the Maroons looked to Pancratz to run the floor and take the last shot, but his three was off the mark, sealing IIT’s upset win.

“I thought it was in when it left his hand, so I thought it was a pretty good look,” McGrath said.

Corning again led Chicago with 20 points, while no other Maroon was able to break into double digits.

With the opening tournament under their belt, the Maroons face an early-season challenge Wednesday when they meet second-ranked Augustana.

“I think the two things we need to do technically is we need to play harder and with more focus,” McGrath said. “I think everybody is focusing on their own play and what they’re doing, and we lose the team focus, and we have to have an aggregate approach rather than an individualistic approach.”