Opening their season at home, men’s basketball shot its way into the record books en route to a pair of impressive victories.
Led by tournament fourth-year guard and tournament MVP Jesse Meyer, Chicago (2–0) routed Coast Guard (1–1) 78--–61 Saturday and tamed DePauw (1–1) 79–71 in Sunday’s championship game to take first place at the Midway Classic. The Maroons put on a dominating performance across the board, including tying a school record Saturday with 16 made three-pointers.
Saturday’s opener started off slowly for Chicago, as the Bears quickly burst out to a 6–0 lead, highlighted with an emphatic dunk off of a Chicago turnover. Chicago soon got its grip on the game, however, as Meyer gave the Maroons their first lead from the foul line at 7–6. The Maroons rocketed from there, capping off a 21–3 run at the halfway mark of the first half. Seemingly everything was going Chicago’s way, as fourth-year point guard Drew Adams topped off the first half with a buzzer-beating trey.
The second stanza was more of the same as Chicago made a run at the record books from beyond the arc. The Maroons charged out of halftime and outscored Coast Guard 18–9 during the first 5:31 of the period, increasing their lead to 25 at 60–35. The shooting frenzy put on by Chicago smothered any hopes Coast Guard had of staying afloat. The Bears managed to cut the lead to 11 with 6:51 left, but fourth-year guards Brandon Woodhead and Derek Brannon put the lid on the game with a pair of three-pointers.
Entering the season without an established low-post presence, long-distance bombs proved to be the answer against Coast Guard. The Maroons rained triple after triple on the Bears throughout the entire game, sinking their comeback bid. With four made-baskets from beyond the arc, Meyer led the way as Chicago tied a school record with 16 three-point field goals. Adams and classmate Nate Hainje each drilled three shots behind the arc. For the game, the South Siders shot an impressive 43.2 percent from three-point land, despite posting an overall mark of just 39.3 percent.
As expected, the championship matchup with DePauw on Sunday stayed close until the final whistle, but the Maroons managed to pull through in the end with a 79–71 victory. Chicago led the game at the halfway point, 43–40, but the first half displayed some great basketball, with six lead changes and five ties. Chicago was never comfortable in the second half, as the Tigers managed to crawl back within two points with 13:34 remaining in the second half, but a 12–2 Chicago run with 7:19 left in the period helped put the game away.
“This was a big win for us,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “DePauw made the NCAAs last year, and this gives us a lot of momentum going on.”
Although the home side pulled away in the final minutes, Chicago and DePauw were about even on the stat sheet. Both squads shot 47.5 percent from the field, while the bigger Tigers took a minor 31–30 rebounding advantage. Like the Saturday game, the threes turned out to make the difference. The Maroons sank 11 of 30 triples compared to only 6 of 18 for the Tigers.
“We shot the ball very well in both games,” McGrath said. “That’s going to be an important factor for us this year. But even though we shot better on Saturday, I was more impressed with the Sunday performance because we were scoring in other ways besides three-pointers. We managed a combination of paint points and outside shooting.”
Defense was key to winning the tournament. On Saturday, the Maroons limited their opponents to 40.4 percent shooting with only 52 field goal attempts compared to 61 for Chicago. They hustled on the offensive glass, pulling down 14 offensive boards and winning the rebound game 41–32. The defense also suffocated the Bears on the perimeter, leading to Coast Guard’s disappointing 6–24 three-point shooting. DePauw was a tougher opponent to guard, but the Maroons’ defense kept the Tigers at bay on both the perimeter and in the lane.
Tournament MVP Meyer dropped in 17 and 13 points in the two games. In his first two games since making the switch from point guard to shooting guard, Woodhead contributed 12 and 19 in the tournament, and Hainje added 13 and 10 in two games. Second-year Tim Reynolds came up strong on the boards, snatching seven and eight rebounds in the back-to-back contests and chipping in 10 points against DePauw.
“At first, I think we were a little rusty on the defensive end, and we needed to communicate a little better,” McGrath said. “But in the end, we made up for that rust with energy and enthusiasm. Overall, I was very pleased with how our defense pulled together in both games.”
These first two games of the season are only a small sample of what is to come. The team travels to Lake Forest today to take on the Foresters before flying to San Antonio for weekend dates with Trinity and Southwestern.
“You expect some rust in our first games, but I was really happy with the performance,” McGrath said. “We are still working on things and trying to get better. In the coming games, we’ll work on scoring in different ways and just learning to communicate better on the court. In the end, we just have to take it one step at a time. Hopefully, we can build on the successful momentum from this weekend.”