Dominant big-man play helps men’s basketball to sweep

By Tim Murphy

After a heartbreaking loss, men’s basketball bounced back in a big way.

The Maroons, responding to a heartbreaking UAA opener, posted a pair of convincing wins against tough league foes to move into a tie for second place. The Maroons (9–5, 2–1 UAA) cruised past Case (9–5, 1–2) Friday in Cleveland 67–58, and handled Emory (8–6, 1–2) 79–68 Sunday in Atlanta.

Displaying a form that has been its trademark in years past but has been missing for much of this season, Chicago was led by a balanced offensive attack in which four players scored in double figures for the Maroons in each game. Fourth-year forward Jason Hicks submitted a pair of strong performances, posting double-doubles in both games.

Eager to make amends for the overtime loss to Wash U, Chicago exploded out of the gate, scoring the game’s first eight points on layups en route to a dominant first half of basketball. The Maroons held Case scoreless for the first 3:27 of the period. A layup by fourth-year center Jon Todd in the final minute of play stretched Chicago’s lead to 36–18, its largest lead of the game.

If the first half exhibited the full offensive and defensive potential of the Maroons, the second period showed their resolve. After being shut down before the break, Case began to show signs of life, going on a 6–0 run to start the second period. Chicago bent but did not break, however, keeping the lead in double digits for most of the half, and never allowing Case closer than seven points.

“We kept up our defensive effort all game,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “They’re used to scoring and they got frustrated.”

Third-year guard Jesse Meyer led the Maroons in scoring with 16 points, shooting four of eight on three-pointers. With Meyer’s marksmanship opening things up, Hicks was free to dominate inside, notching twelve points and twelve boards in only 24 minutes of play. Third-year point guard Brandon Woodhead chipped in 10 points to go with 11 assists, while second-year forward Nate Hainje, not known for his scoring, added 11 points and 8 rebounds.

“He’s been playing well all year,” McGrath said of Hainje, who also contributed defensively with three steals. “He just happened to knock in a few more shots .” Hainje is averaging 7.6 points per contest on the season.

Sunday’s contest was more of a grind-it-out affair, with nine lead changes in the first half. While Emory’s defense forced 16 turnovers in the first period of play, the Maroons still managed to go into intermission with a 34–31 lead, largely on the strength of 63.2 percent shooting from the field.

“Emory was a matter of persevering,” McGrath said. “They are a really aggressive defensive team. We turned the ball over a lot but we never got down.”

After the break, the Maroons settled down, taking better care of the basketball while they continuing their torrid shooting. The two teams traded baskets for the first five minutes of the period, before a 9–0 Chicago run stretched the lead to 11 and put the Maroons in the driver’s seat.

For the second straight game, Hicks and Meyer led a balanced offensive attack. Hicks submitted a dominant effort inside against Emory’s three-guard offense, grabbing 16 rebounds and tallying 22 points.

“Jason did really well,” McGrath said. “Over the course of the year he’s been rebounding consistently—especially on the defensive end—but he has the ability to contribute on a greater level. I really think that he did that this weekend.”

Meyer poured in 18 points of his own, while shooting four of six on three-pointers, to bring his weekend to total to 8–14, a considerable improvement on his 39.3 percent season average. Third-year forward Jason Vismantas and Hainje each chipped in 11 points. Fourth-year guard Uche Okonkwo, who has seen his minutes decrease from last season, logged fourteen minutes off the bench to energize the Maroons.

“We had a situation where Uche’s physical play was going to help us, and he did a really good job for us,” McGrath said. “I was really proud of Uche coming in there and stepping up.”

The wins this weekend were a big step forward for a team looking to challenge for the league title. After an overtime loss at Wash U, the Maroons established themselves as a contender in the UAA and demonstrated their offensive and defensive capabilities. Chicago hosts last-place Brandeis this Friday at “Beach Night” at Ratner.

“Our goal was to win both games,” McGrath said. “We knew it’d be a challenge. Winning two games on the road in as good a league as this is, is a good effort for the team. If we can take care of business at home, it’ll put us in a great spot.”