SPORTS

  /  

November 29, 2005

Men’s basketball makes quick recovery after first defeat

They ended up taking their first lumps, but with some of their toughest non-league games just ahead, men’s basketball was able to sandwich a disappointing loss between a pair of extremely complete victories.

The Maroons (4–1) responded well after failing to crawl all the way back in Saturday’s 70–67 loss to Carleton. The very next day, the team held Edgewood at arm’s length for a 67–56 triumph in their first road game of the year. Coming off the heels of an overwhelming 75–59 win over Lake Forest November 22, their resilience shows promise leading into games against a Wheaton (1–1) team that went 20–6 and made the NCAA tourney last year and an Illinois Wesleyan (3–0) squad currently ranked first in the nation.

“[Against Edgewood] we showed that we picked up something from our loss. If you’re going to be a good team over the course of the season, that’s something you’re going to have to do,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “We bounced back pretty good.”

It was needed reassurance after the team’s first loss of the year. While the Maroons started off well against the Knights (2–1), with second-year forward Nate Hainje recording five points before Carleton got on the board, the visitors stayed right with them and took control of the game with a deluge of three pointers in the last 10 minutes before halftime. The Knights shot 9-for-13 from beyond the arc, paced by a four-for-five performance from third-year guard Jake Phillips, to take a 41–29 lead into the locker room. It was by far the largest deficit the Maroons had faced all year.

“We did defensively as well as we should have, but it seemed like every time we screwed up, they took advantage of it. They hit a couple shots, and it becomes epidemic,” McGrath said. “Once you let a good team get on a roll, it’s hard to stop them.”

There was no quit in the home team in the second half. They began to show their muscle near the basket, as Hainje and fourth-year forward Clay Carmody grabbed big layups. Third-year guard Brandon Woodhead also got involved, drawing a foul inside and nailing two free throws to help pull Chicago within six. The Knights pulled away again to reestablish their double-digit lead, but third-year guard Jesse Meyer swished a trio of treys to close the gap to a mere three points with 3:11 to go. A Woodhead layup narrowed the game even further at 64–63 with just over two minutes left, but with both teams in bonus territory the Maroons couldn’t take advantage.

“The guys on the team deserve a little credit for not giving up on that game,” Meyer said. “But when you lose by three, the free throws you miss, the turnovers you had—it makes all those mistakes seem so much more apparent. It drives home the mistakes you can’t afford to make.”

Woodhead and Hainje both recorded 17 points to lead all comers, while Carmody pulled down seven rebounds on the afternoon. The team as a whole out-rebounded the Knights 33–24 but turned the ball over 15 times.

“We just dug ourselves too deep a hole. It’s pretty hard to overcome that,” McGrath said.

With this in mind, Chicago left nothing to chance against the Eagles (3–1). The Maroons opened the game with a 10–0 run, scoring eight points in the paint. While Edgewood got right back into things, taking the lead late in the half 28–27, Chicago would not let things get out of control. The Maroons took a four-point lead into halftime, which they extended to double digits within just over a minute into the second half. Meyer penetrated the paint for a layup and a jumper, and third-year guard Drew Adams nailed a pair of long bombs to build an 18-point margin at 13:50. It was clear sailing through the end.

“It was really nice we could play again the next day [after the Carleton game],” Meyer said. “You get a bad taste in your mouth from that, and 24 hours later you get to prove that it shouldn’t happen. We definitely knew what we couldn’t do in that game, and that fueled the fire.”

All 16 men on Chicago’s roster made it into the game, with second-year forward Tim Reynolds among the key contributors with two blocks. The usual suspects made their presence felt on the score sheet as well, with Meyer and Carmody chipping in 13 points apiece and Hainje (seven rebounds) making his presence felt on the glass. In total, the Maroons recorded 28 defensive rebounds, their highest total of the season, and 40 boards in all.

“This might be our best effort over 40 minutes. We’re constantly looking to have the best 40 minutes we can have, and I think we’ve done that better and better as we’ve gone along, with the exception of the Carleton game,” McGrath said.

It was a gratifying win in several other respects. Last year, the Maroons went 3–10 in away games, including six losses in seven visits to league opponents. A relatively easy win in their first trip of the season bodes well for this winter’s group.

“Especially being on the road, where we’ve had some trouble, our guys knew that we just had to win that game,” Meyer said.

The victory bookended nicely with Tuesday’s whipping of Lake Forest (1–3). The game went back and forth throughout the first 20 minutes, as a combined 18-point showing from big men Carmody and fourth-year forward Jason Hicks wasn’t enough to build a lead. The Foresters may have felt like they were in the game up 27–26, but they were about to fall victim to a Chicago halftime mental status check.

“We came into the locker room after giving away some easy buckets in the first half, and were saying, ‘We’re not losing this game, we’re gonna do whatever it takes to get this done,’ Coming together at halftime is becoming a theme for us,” Meyer said.

It took Lake Forest more than six minutes to get any points from the field in the second half. By that time, two treys and a layup from Meyer, a Woodhead layup, and a three-for-three performance at the free throw line from Hainje had significantly changed the complexion of the game. The Maroons answered every serious Forester challenge, getting 10 points at the stripe and 22 in the paint in the last 20 minutes. In total, the Maroons shot 54.9 percent and hit 13 of 16 free throws for a 16-point margin.

“We were bigger and stronger, and I think that advantage starts to show itself over time. It’s the physical wear and tear on the other team that makes the difference. It won’t take its toll immediately,” McGrath said. “After a while, it started to work on [Lake Forest].”

Meyer led all scorers with 15 points, and Hicks recorded the Maroons’ second double-double of the year with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The team will need to keep up the sort of solid, mistake-free ball that characterized last week’s win if they are to break off another long winning streak. After their trip to Wheaton Wednesday and a Ratner bout against the national title contending Titans Saturday, the Maroons will host Kalamazoo (2–2) December 10 and undergo a brutal road trop through Concordia (4–1) December 13, Coe (3–1) December 16, and Cornell (0–2) December 17 before going home for break.

“We need to worry about the things we can control, and realize what the things we can’t do are,” Meyer said. “We’re going to have to play some mistake-free basketball. We showed that against Lake Forest in the second half, so we know that’s there.”