Slow start, foul-ridden finish proves undoing for men in overtime defeat: No spirit in St. Louis trip for basketball teams

By Joe Katz

If they counted moral victories in the standings, men’s basketball would be off to a very good start. But rather than an upset, Saturday’s league opener proved to be merely upsetting.

After overcoming a slow start to force overtime, the Maroons (7–5, 0–1) fell victim to a hale of Wash U (9–3, 1–0) free throws and dropped their UAA opener 74–68 at St. Louis. Despite third-year guard Jesse Meyer’s first collegiate double-double (25 points, 10 rebounds) and a career-high 12 points from his class- and backcourt-mate Drew Adams, Chicago lost for the sixth-straight year at the Field House.

The defeat was the most recent in a series of close calls for the team, who had a similar comeback fall short against Carleton (8–5, 4–3 MIAC) in a 70–67 defeat at home November 26 and came achingly close to knocking off top-ranked Illinois Wesleyan (11–1, 1–1 CCIW) in a 71–67 December 3 squeaker at Ratner. With the non-conference schedule complete, the Maroons’ patience with these near-wins is wearing thin.

“I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. I think there are a lot of guys who are very, very angry that we choked this one away. We were up by six, with time left, and we didn’t get the stops,” Meyer said. “This is one of the most painful losses of my career.”

“You always want to look at things from the positive side, and I think there were a lot of positives that we can take from this game,” Adams said. “But the truth is, we thought we were the better team going into the game and despite being at Wash U, we felt we should have won.”

They certainly had a shot. Third-year guard Brandon Woodhead (7 points, 3 assists) put the Maroons up 65–63 in the extra period with an inside jumper 25 seconds in. But Wash forced a series of fouls, and behind a four-for-four performance at the stripe by third-year guard Neal Griffin they were able to pull ahead and lock down. Wash U had the distinct advantage of being in bonus territory throughout the overtime period, an edge gained on a series of ticky-tack foul calls.

“The overtime period basically came down to who would make the most plays in a five-minute span, and unfortunately we were unable to do that. I felt we had some good looks at the basket that just didn’t go down for us and we were unable to get defensive stops at the other end,” Adams said.

“There’s a way that you can look at this and say that we went into a hostile environment not at full strength against a capable team and had umpteen shots to win, and there’s some positives to that,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “I don’t think we should feel really good about it, but I don’t think we should feel awful about it.”

Free-throwing shooting heroics aside, the trouble for the Maroons came mostly in the first 20 minutes as the squad continues to struggle to play a complete game. Wash U was able to set the tone from the get-go, led by some deadly shooting by fourth-year guard Scott Stone (22 points, 8 rebounds), who went 8-for-18 from the field on the game. The Bears ran a number of plays for Stone, who was aided by a strong effort to work inside-out from second-year forward Troy Ruths (13 points, 11 rebounds).

Responding to the matchup problems in the frontcourt positions, both teams went small as the game went on. This limited the contributions of Wash U’s fourth-year center Mike Grunst, who had just two points and three rebounds on the day, but it gave first-year forward Tyler Nading the opportunity to burn the Maroons for 14. The Maroons clawed their way back mid-half, but a 9–0 run beginning with 5:35 before the break left them down 28–21 at the break, the seventh halftime deficit this year.

“I don’t know if we played with urgency. I don’t want to say too patient, but we weren’t urgent enough in the first half,” Meyer said. “If we had a good first half, we would have won that game.”

“I don’t think that game ever got away from us. I don’t think we were particularly sharp, and that showed up,” McGrath said.

Fortunately, the visitors also repeated another pattern, jumping on the Bears right out of the locker room with a 10–2 run to tighten the game. The Maroon shot 59.3 percent from the field in the second half after managing just a 25.9-percent clip in the first, including an impressive 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. Adams was a big factor, finding his stroke for a 3-for-4 performance from downtown. Meyer contributed 11 points of his own after the break, while second-year forward Tim Reynolds, starting in place of ill fourth-year Clay Carmody, came up with nine points and four rebounds.

The game went back and forth throughout the entire half, with Wash U taking hold of things with a 36–31 lead with 13:28 remaining and Chicago swinging momentum the other way to go up by six at 53–47 on a Meyer inside jumper with 5:37 left.

On their home court, Ruths and Stone hit some big shots to keep their team in the running, and Nading put them up 63–62 with a jumper in the paint with 80 seconds to go. With 30 seconds left, Reynolds got to the line and hit his first free throw to knot things up. He couldn’t get the second one to fall, and time expired with the score tied at 63.

“We had kind of a sloppy first half and great second half. Especially in conference play, this shows how important it is to start off well,” Meyer said. “The positive is, we learned that in the first game. There’s time left. It’ll be fuel for next weekend.”

“We had good things happen that put us in a position to win, had a lot of bad things happen that put us in a position to not win,” McGrath said.

Personal fouls would go a long way to making the difference, with Chicago being called for 19 against just 11 for the Bears. Wash U also showed up in the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Maroons 43–42.

If the Maroons haven’t learned their lesson, the next few weeks could get extremely ugly. All eight UAA squads played quality basketball in non-conference play, and Chicago will have to win some tough games on the road to stay in the mix for an NCAA berth. The team will travel again this weekend, heading to Cleveland for a Friday-night fight with Case Western and then on to Emory for what could be a deceptively tough Sunday afternoon game.

Case stands at 9–3, with a 1–0 record in the league after beating Emory 76–68 on Saturday. The Spartans were led by returning All-UAA first-teamer fourth-year forward Carson Oren, who recorded 19 points and 11 rebounds, and classmate guard Funso Lafe, who scored 11 points to continue his drive toward 1,000 career points. The team as a whole shoots 48.9 percent from the field and averages a plus-15.2 advantage over their opponents in rebounds per game. However, they have some trouble taking care of the ball, averaging 19.2 turnovers per game against 18.7 assists.

Size should be a big advantage for the Maroons over the Eagles (7–5, 0–1), who may start just one player standing over 6-foot-2. Team-leading scorer fourth-year forward Jeff Hall (21.0 PPG) has been held out of the last three games and will likely be replaced in the startling lineup by third-year guard Adrian Sosa (8.8 PPG) for the fourth showdown in a row. This could allow the Maroons to focus their defensive scheme on shutting down the backcourt duo of second-year Spiros Ferderigos (16.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG) and third-year Shawn Bailey (13.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG). Starting four guards, Emory will have difficulty establishing an inside presence.

The Maroons may be aided by the return of Carmody to the lineup, with a possibility of him starting as soon as Friday at Case. If he has not recovered his strength, Reynolds will continue to hold down his starting spot.