Brandeis loss eliminates men’s hoops from UAA race

By Joe Katz

It’s nearly impossible to win a basketball game when both the post and the perimeter players aren’t making shots. In a make-or-break game, men’s hoops couldn’t beat the odds.

The Maroons (14–10, 7–6) started off ice cold and never fully recovered in a 68–51 loss at Brandeis (13–11, 6–7) Sunday. The defeat eliminated Chicago from UAA title contention, despite the team’s nail-biting 62–60 win over NYU (18–6, 7–6) in Manhattan Friday night. Fourth-year power forward Jason Hicks and third-year shooting guard Jesse Meyer (13 points) paced the road team against the Violets, while second-year small forward Nate Hainje (13 points) led the way versus the Judges.

Coming off their escape from New York, the men were in position to make a run for the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid. A win would have put them no worse than one game behind league leaders, then-20th-ranked Carnegie Mellon (19-5, 9-4) and Wash U (17-7, 9-4). It was not to be, as the Maroons could not make their shots (30.6 FG percent, 16.0 3FG percent) fall while Brandeis seemingly couldn’t miss (56.3 FG percent).

“The frustrating thing was that they were playing us a little soft on the perimeter, trying to force us into the post, and our perimeter guys couldn’t make the jump shots they usually do,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “You can only overcome that with really good defense, and that was the area where we really could have used some help.”

It was clear from the tip-off that this was not going to be a stroll in the park. Brandeis had the Maroons beat every way they turned, getting good penetration from second-year guards Florian Rexhepi and Joe Coppens and great outside shooting from second-year guard Kwame Graves-Fulgham for a monstrous 18–2 lead less than six minutes in. Try as they might, nothing was going Chicago’s way, as they were victimized by poor ball handling and some unfavorable reffing.

“It just got into our heads a little bit. They’re making shots, they’re getting calls, we’re not. That drains your focus and enthusiasm,” McGrath said. “It’s like a snowball rolling downhill. It just keeps getting bigger.”

There wasn’t much quit in the road team, which brawled its way back to within four at halftime 34–30. Hainje, Woodhead, and first-year forward Adam Machones managed to bust up Brandeis for some points inside to lead the turnaround. But the Judges refused to let it slip away, as they clamped down on Hicks and fourth-year center Clay Carmody inside, limiting them to a combined 11 points. With Meyer and Woodhead going 1–9 from beyond the arc, the Maroons were overwhelmed. Brandeis led by double-digits for the last 10 minutes.

Judges second-year forward Steve DeLuca had 18 points for the game-high. Chicago did manage to stay involved against the glass, as Hainje led the way for the Maroons with seven. He and Woodhead (11 points) were the only Chicago players to score in double-digits. It was the fifth game in the last six in which Hainje scored 10 or more.

“Nate’s an unselfish team player, but I felt like he was passing up better shots than he was giving other people. I told him to be more assertive, and I think he heard that,” McGrath said. “He was the one guy I felt like offensively played the way I expected him to play.”

It had made more of a difference earlier in the weekend in New York. The Maroons knew they likely had to win to stay in the UAA running, and it showed as they pulled off an 8–0 run in the early going. When the Violets came back on them, Hainje (10 points) sandwiched a Meyer trey with a pair of his own to take a 21–12 lead with 6:27 to go in the first half.

“Defensively, we played with much more determination, allowing us to give up fewer game-changing plays,” Woodhead said.

Trailing by six at halftime, NYU kept hanging around, but seemed to have even more trouble than would have been expected defending in the paint without injured third-year center Jason Boone. Big men Carmody, Hicks, Machones, and third-year forward Jason Vismantas combined for 18 points and 10 rebounds in the second half.

“With them not having Boone, we were able to go inside a little more, and we really did in the second half,” Meyer said. “We rebounded well, shot well, and defended well. It was a black and white weekend in that respect. We played very well minus the last minutes.”

Everything nearly came apart all the same. Holding a 13-point lead with less than three minutes to go, the Maroons seemed to let up on what had been airtight perimeter defense. With turnovers and some questionable traveling calls coming left and right, Violets third-year forward Michael DeCorso (14 points) and fourth-year guard Jared Kildare (16 points) combined for a trio of three-pointers to help make it a four-point game with 22 seconds left. After Vismantas fouled third-year guard Matt Basford (10 points) on a downtown shot with 3.2 seconds left, Basford made two free throws and intentionally missed the third to set up the buzzer shot. Kildare came up with it and shot uncontested, but couldn’t convert.

“It got tipped to the left corner, and he happened to be standing there. He actually got a good look, but it was pretty rushed. Fortunately, we managed to come up with the board,” Meyer said.

Kildare led both teams in scoring, while Carmody (10 points) joined Meyer, Hicks, and Hainje as a double-digit scorer for Chicago.

While the win ended up being meaningless to the Maroons’ UAA hopes, Kildare’s missed chance still set up a very interesting scenario at Ratner Saturday. The Tartans and Bears are both 9–4 with one game left. If the Maroons can avenge their January 7 74–68 overtime loss at St. Louis, they can play a big role in denying Wash U the championship.

“We hate them and they hate us. It’s pretty clear-cut. I think there’s a little more emphasis on us winning our last game and sending the seniors out with a win than on denying them the title, but it’s on our minds,” Meyer said.