There were two new looks for the Chicago Maroons men's basketball team entering the season opening invitational tournament. The first was the brand new court at the Ratner Athletics Center. The second, and more important, was the new offense, without the presence of All-American and last season's Division III Player of the Year Derek Reich.
In the season-opening game against foe Illinois Wesleyan, that offense looked extremely out of sync as the Maroons missed shots early and often. The team had problems penetrating into the lane and settled for too many contested three-point shots, leading to a paltry 31 percent shooting average and just 48 total points. The Maroons also shot only 14 percent from the free-throw line.
Coach Mike McGrath called this a "transition year" and has installed a new offense, hoping to get more players involved and to force the opponents to "guard four or five players."
Illinois Wesleyan led 41-24 at the half and eventually won the game 73-48. Fourth-year Scott Fisher led the Maroons in scoring with 16 points and seven boards.
Heading into Sunday's consolation game against Springfield College, the Maroons were desperately looking to solve their offensive woes and get a big win.
"We needed a win, especially after our performance against Wesleyan, to gain confidence heading into a tough game on Tuesday night [against Wheaton]," said second-year guard Uche Okonkwo.
After starting out cold from the field, the Maroons' offense finally fell into place as they took their first lead of the game with 9:29 left in the first half on a big three by first-year point guard Drew Adams. Adams played with confidence and hit key shots, scoring five points, playing solid defense, and distributing the basketball well.
The Maroons' shooting was streaky as third-year Brian Cuttica hit back-to-back shots, including a three pointer with 6:10 left to go in the half. But the star of this game was third-year guard Justin Waldie, who routinely hit tough shots, knocking down two big three pointers at the end of the first half to give the Maroons a 40-25 lead at halftime.
The offense again looked sluggish in the beginning of the second half as the Maroons once again went cold.
But while Springfield would make runs throughout the half to try to get back in the game, the Maroons showed their resilience by matching Springfield's runs with big shots from Waldie and third-year Bryan Fitzgerald. Springfield made it a five-point game with 3:30 to go in the game, but the Maroons held and first-year Brandon Woodhead hit a three with 1:45 on the clock, putting Chicago up 69-63 and essentially icing the victory for the Maroons, who went on to win 78-66. Waldie led five Maroons in double figures scoring with 18 points.
Fisher was named to the All-Tournament team after scoring 10 points Sunday.
Third-year Mike Dolezal, who scored 10 points and grabbed three rebounds on Sunday, attributed the consolation win to "much better execution than what we did on Saturday. We came ready to play today against Springfield. We definitely have not performed up to our capabilities yet, but we're happy with today's victory," he said.
The Maroons travel to Wheaton College on Tuesday night before returning home next Saturday against Denison.