Momentum clangs off rim as men drop two on road

By Joe Katz

This time last week, men’s basketball was riding high off of the adrenaline of a scintillating overtime win over a ranked squad and the annihilation of a hot league rival. What a difference seven days makes.

Filling out the road half of a home-and-home with Rochester and 18th-ranked Carnegie, Chicago (11–9, 4–5) fell victim to second-half runs against both squads. The Maroons fell to the revenge bug first while visiting the Yellowjackets (14–6, 5–4) in a 60–49 loss Friday and then the Tartans (17–3, 7–2) in an agonizing 76–67 Sunday afternoon decision. Team scoring leaders third-year shooting guard Jesse Meyer (11 points against Rochester) and second-year small forward Nate Hainje (career-high 19 points against Carnegie) set the pace, but they were unable to spark the complete offense that produced a double upset last weekend.

There was every reason to believe that they could have. In their final January games against these same teams at Ratner, the Maroons found a winning combination of aggressive defense, red-hot shooting, and team-first distribution. That weekend they stuck with Carnegie for the full 40 minutes despite being handled against the glass in the second half and came back from down five in extra time, and they avoided any letdown to blow Rochester out of the gym with a 72.7 percent first-half shooting mark.

The second time around, both opposing squads seemed to have Chicago’s number. Rochester and Carnegie both won the battle for the boards by an eight-rebound margin, got 23 and 54 points, respectively, out of their frontcourt starters, and combined to hold the Maroons to 27.9 second-half shooting.

“I just think we weren’t tough enough, across the board,” Meyer said. “We played hard, we competed, but when push came to shove, I just think we weren’t tough enough for them.”

They looked plenty tough enough in the first minutes against Rochester. The Maroons had the lead for less than two minutes of Friday’s first half, but seven points each from Meyer and fourth-year power forward Clay Carmody kept them right with their hosts. A Hainje trey with 23 seconds left before the break pulled Chicago within two at 27–25 going into halftime.

But after suffering a humiliating defeat against the Maroons last Sunday, the Yellowjackets were not to be denied. The hosts slowly but surely built up an 11-point gap on Chicago with 5:18 remaining in the game. The Maroons struck back, pulling within four on a Meyer trey, a jumper from third-year point guard Brandon Woodhead, and a Hainje layup, but the Yellowjackets’ powerful big man second-year center Jon Onyiriuka (12 points, 6 boards) turned a pick-and-roll into a decisive dunk at the 3:21 mark to set the Maroons down the foul-everyone road to defeat.

“You’re down four, you’re really making a run, and you’ve got to have a hold,” Meyer said. “Giving up the dunk takes the wind out of your sails a little bit.”

A near-total failure to establish a post game may have been fatal to the Maroons’ chances. Chicago got 14 points and 9 rebounds out of Carmody and fourth-year center Jason Hicks, but Rochester second-year Uche Ndubizu almost matched their boards total with eight. With only 6 points in the paint as compared to the Yellowjackets’ 30, the Maroons were clearly outmatched inside, with Onyiriuka tied for his team’s scoring lead with 12 points. Second-year guard Jeff Juron matched that total, a big boost for his team considering he went scoreless in Chicago’s January 29 win.

“The first game against Rochester was a little misleading,” Hainje said. “They did not shoot the ball well and we hit some tough shots. This time, we didn’t shoot the ball well and they hit some tough shots, which made it hard for us to get a win.”

The team headed down to Pittsburgh needing a repeat of their season highlight win to recover and salvage the weekend. The Maroons seemed well on their way in the early going. Usually a selective shooter, Hainje had eight points in the first three minutes to help lead a 13–0 start. The Tartans’ own Nate, fourth-year and star big-man Maurer (26 points, 9 rebounds), refused to let his team go down so easily with 11 points over a 5:15 stretch to get Carnegie back in the picture. The home team knotted the score twice during the later portion of the half, but another scoring burst from Hainje sent them into the locker room down by 10.

“In the past couple games, I’ve been taking the open shots that I had been passing up earlier in the year,” said Hainje, who averaged 14.5 points per game on the weekend and is now shooting 48.6 percent from the field for the season.

The Tartans came out again ready to play, riding a bevy of second-shot buckets and free throws for a 7–2 run. With the fouls piling up for Chicago, the Tartans went to the stripe again and again to earn 20 points off second-half charity shots. The combination of easy buckets and ice-cold Maroons shooting broke the back of the road team.

“The attitude was there, the effort was there, the mindset was there, but we came out and gave up some rebounds right away,” Meyer said. “It didn’t kill us, but it hurt us a little that we didn’t have that killer instinct right away.”

Fourth-year guard A.J. Straub hit a three to put Carnegie up for the first time at 3:42 to go, and they turned that 66–65 lead into the final nine-point margin with six free throws and four points in the paint from fourth-year forward Clayton Barlow-Wilcox.

“I guess they just wanted it more than we did. That’s why it was so frustrating,” Meyer said. “This wasn’t the Brandeis or NYU game where we came out and sucked. We had them with five minutes left and couldn’t finish it.”

“The second half came down to toughness on defense and rebounding. At home, we finished plays late in the second half, and in Pittsburgh we struggled down the stretch,” Hainje said.

Carmody led the way in rebounding again with eight, but he only had three in the second half as Carnegie turned a 22–18 deficit on the glass to a 47–38 overall lead. Woodhead had six assists, adding Hainje’s passing role to his own.

With five losses in UAA play, the Maroons are in sixth, three behind the league-leading Tartans and would be hard pressed to challenge for the conference title and automatic bid. However, Chicago stands just one game behind the three-way tie for third between Rochester, Brandeis (12–8, 5–4), and Wash U (13–7, 5–4), and the team could easily still achieve the preseason goal of a top-half finish.

“I don’t know how it’s all going to pan out. I know it doesn’t look promising for us, but we have five more chances to play together, and our goal is to win all five,” Meyer said. “We’d like to send the seniors out with five wins.”

The men will host Emory (9–11, 2–7) Friday night and Case (10–10, 2–7) Sunday afternoon. Chicago beat the Spartans 67–58 in Cleveland January 13 and slammed the Eagles in Atlanta 79–68 January 15.