Men’s hoops rebounds with solid sweep

By Tim Murphy

It wasn’t pretty, but with their postseason hopes hanging by a thread, men’s basketball kept the dream alive.

The Maroons (13–9, 6–5) handled league doormats Emory (9–13, 2–9) 69–58 Friday at Ratner, and Case (10–12, 2–9) 52–49 in the Sunday matinee to keep pace in the UAA race. Led by a pair of clutch performances from third-year point guard Brandon Woodhead and fourth-year forward Jason Hicks, the Maroons overcame their inconsistencies to overcome their scrappy rivals. The wins kept Chicago in sole-possession of fifth place in the conference, two games behind leader Carnegie Mellon with three games to play.

While far from dominant, the Maroons’ performance in Friday’s contest against the Eagles offered a glimpse of what the squad is capable of. Chicago exploded out of the gate, shooting 60 percent from the field in the first half, including 6-for-10 from beyond the arc. Second-year guard Nate Hainje led the way with three treys, and Chicago received balanced scoring from the trio of Hainje, Woodhead and Hicks. The Maroons were similarly effective on the glass, with a 21–9 rebounding edge at intermission.

“They came out playing zone, a box and one on [third-year guard Jesse Meyer] and then a 1-2-2 at times, which gave us some open looks and we just knocked them down,” Hainje said.

It was by all accounts a successful first period of play, but the game was far from over. The Eagles stepped up their defense and clamped down on Chicago’s perimeter offense. The Maroons, who led by 17 with 16:49 to play, saw their lead shrink to 8 after a layup by Emory’s first-year point guard Spiros Ferderigos with just under five minutes left in the game. Before any further damage could be done, Woodhead stepped up with a pair of layups to quash the rally, and the Maroons shot 13-for-14 from the free-throw line to ice the game.

Woodhead led the way for the Maroons with 16 points. Hicks added 12, and Hainje (11 points), Meyer (10) and second-year forward Matt Corning (10) chipped in with double figures in the win. Ferderigos was the game’s leading scorer with 19 points for the Eagles.

“In the second half they played all man and were very aggressive, so we didn’t get as many open looks from the outside,” Hainje said. “It gave us an advantage on the inside with our size and I think we took advantage of that.”

While every shot seemed to fall for the Maroons on Friday, the team’s resiliency was tested against Case when the offense sputtered to start the game. Receiving an unexpected challenge from the last-place Spartans, Chicago struggled offensively and found themselves down at the half 28–24. Although the Maroons received solid production inside from Hicks and second-year Tim Reynolds, Case’s full-court pressure defense forced Woodhead to share the ballhandling duties with Hainje and shut down Chicago’s perimeter scorers.

With the rest of the team continuing their cold shooting in the second half, the duo of Hicks and Woodhead took over for the second consecutive game. The pair combined for eight points as part of a 10–0 run that gave the Maroons the lead for the first time since the second minute. With the game back in reach, Chicago executed well on both sides of the ball, getting timely defensive stops and quality shot opportunities. The teams traded leads into the final minute until Hicks drained a jumper from the corner with 22 seconds to play to give the Maroons the lead for good.

“Neither of us shot the ball well and it just came down to getting stops on defense and rebounding,” Hainje said. “Woodhead played exceptionally well down the stretch and as a team we made good decisions.”

“We took good shots most of the game but they just weren’t falling,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “What happened was our perimeter guys and Jason [Hicks] started putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket, and they had success with that.”

Woodhead (15 points) and Hicks (12) led the way for the Maroons again against Case, as no other Chicago player scored in double figures. Fourth-year forward Carson Oren powered the Spartans with 11 points.

With the weekend sweep, the Maroons remain alive in their quest for a league title. Although the road ahead doesn’t get any easier, with games at NYU and Brandeis, with each victory Chicago gets that much closer. It may be a long shot, but as they showed against Carnegie earlier this season, anything can happen if the Maroons play to their full potential.

“We’re in a position where we likely have to win our league to get in,” McGrath said. “It can happen. If we win those three games [at NYU, Brandeis, and Wash U], I think we have a shot. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

This weekend the Maroons go on their Northeast swing, taking on NYU (18–4, 7–4) Friday and Brandeis (15–7, 7–4) Sunday. Chicago fell to the then-22nd-ranked Violets 67–58 at Ratner on January 22, and dropped a 72–60 Beach Night decision to the Judges on January 20.