Men’s road-trip progress negated by second-half woes: Life’s a beach as hoops squads swept in Ratner stands

By Tim Murphy

So much for momentum.

One weekend after winning a pair of tough road games against league rivals, men’s basketball dropped two winnable games on their home court. The Maroons (9–7, 2–3) dropped a 72–60 decision Friday to league bottom-dwellers Brandeis (8–7, 1–4) and fell 67–58 to 24th-ranked NYU (14–2, 3–2) Sunday.

Before a raucous “Beach Night” student section Friday night, the contest started off well for the Maroons, as they jumped out to a 37–30 halftime lead. Buoyed by twelve points from fourth-year forward Jason Hicks, Chicago was consistently able to get the ball inside and score on a variety of midrange jumpers and drives to the basket.

However, the tide turned in the second half. The Judges burst out of the gate and never looked back, starting the final period with a 16–5 run to take the lead for good. Brandeis’ aggressive full-court pressure and matchup-zone defense forced the Maroons’ into turnovers and led to easy baskets.

“Brandeis outplayed us in the second half, simple as that,” said third-year shooting guard Jesse Meyer, who scored 13 points but shot only 5–13 from the field. “They came up with the boards and the loose balls and we did not. The frustrating thing is that we that we knew they were going to do that. We knew they were a scrappy team and that we had to really play hard in order for us to win and just did not get it done.”

Hicks led all scorers with 19 points for Chicago, shooting 8-of-12 from the floor. The Judges received 17 points apiece from second-year guards Kwame Graves-Fulgham and Florian Rexhepi, while second-year forward Steve DeLuca added 15.

“They made some plays right away to start the second half,” head coach Mike McGrath added. “I think it shook our confidence a little bit. It got them going and it kind of rattled us. The game started to go the way they wanted to play it rather than the way we wanted to play it.”

In Sunday’s matinee the Maroons welcomed the Violets and their third-year All-American candidate center Jason Boone to Ratner. The first half was marked by tenacious defense and offensive struggles from both squads. Chicago seemed determined to force the ball inside to Hicks, who had led the team in scoring in the previous two games, but shot only 3-of-10 from the floor in the first period of play. Although Boone was as good as advertised, notching 10 first-half points, the Maroons’ defense forced NYU into launching an uncharacteristic number of outside shots and prevented them from getting into a groove offensively.

“We had a completely different game plan [than on Friday],” Hicks said. “Our goal was to limit their touches inside, especially to Boone.”

Yet as has been the case on three previous occasions during league, the Maroons came out flat to start the second half, and the Violets went on a 8–0 run to stretch their lead to 12. After a Chicago timeout, the home team went on a mini-run of their own to cut the lead to five, and the momentum seesawed back and forth for much of the period. After a Carmody jumper cut the deficit to three with 2:38 to play, it looked as if the Maroons just might snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Fourth-year point guard Jared Kildare answered with a trey, and from that point on, it was simply a matter of the Violets making their foul shots.

“Boone is going to get his points but they [our big men] played well and our game plan going into things looked good,” Meyer said. “Where we got hurt was by making some mistakes out on the perimeter with getting through screens and handoffs.”

Meyer led the Maroons with 15 points, while third-year point guard Brandon Woodhead added 11. Fourth-year forward Clay Carmody contributed with 13 points and three rebounds off the bench. NYU received double-doubles from third-year forward Michael Decorso (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Boone (14 points, 13 rebounds). Kildare chipped in with 10 assists and nine points.

Despite the losses, the Maroons received a boost in the return of Carmody and second-year forward Matt Corning to the lineup.

“It was nice to get Clay and Matt back in the mix,” McGrath said. “Clay lost about fifteen pounds [from mono]. I don’t know if we’ll see him back at full strength this season, but he’s a talented offensive player, and he’ll continue to see more minutes.”

Although the Maroons showed flashes of their potential in both games, their inability to close out games and score consistently was exposed once again. If the Maroons are to be anything more than a middle-of-the-pack team in the UAA this season, consistency over the course of a full 40-minute game will be key.

“We don’t necessarily score easily and that puts a lot of pressure on our defense and makes every basket the other team scores stand out,” McGrath said. “We need to take good shots and clamp down defensively. I don’t think we’ve been that inconsistent, our margin for error just makes it seem that way.”

The Maroons will host league-leader and 14th-ranked Carnegie Mellon Friday and Rochester Sunday. A pair of wins would go a long way towards proving that the team’s early season success was no fluke.

“Hopefully these games have taught us to be more humble at halftime and be more proactive with aggressiveness,” Hicks said.