SPORTS

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January 30, 2007

Men's basketball sweep, but injuries mount

Just as everything seemed to be going right for men’s basketball, a pair of injuries to key players raised new issues about the squad’s already shallow benbch and marred an otherwise satisfying weekend.

Battling a pair of league contenders at Ratner, the Maroons earned a hard-fought 62-–60 decision over 24th-ranked NYU (14–4, 3–4) Friday and laid waste to Brandeis (13–5, 3–4) Sunday with a 46-point first half en route to a 88–76 triumph. With the wins, Chicago solidified sole possession of second place in the UAA and dispelled any doubts about whether they can compete with bigger teams.

Putting a damper on the stellar home stand was the loss of second-year starting center Tom Watson with a dislocated kneecap and second-year guard Adam Machones with a right shoulder injury. With third-year starter Tim Reynolds still sidelined indefinitely with a broken foot, the Maroons find themselves perilously thin in the frontcourt.

“It’s really hard,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “We’re actually going into this weekend where we won’t have anybody taller than [6-foot-4]. And that’s tough. But we’re gonna have to compete as hard as we can and see where we go from there.”

Opening the weekend against NYU, an opponent that dispatched them with relative ease last season in Ratner, the Maroons rose to the challenge and kept the game close. The home side battled through seven second-half lead changes to grab control of the game for good with 9:50 to play, holding on to a win thanks to a spirited defensive performance down the stretch.

Clinging to a two-point lead with six seconds left, third-year guard Nate Hainje went to the line with a chance to ice the game. Hainje, a 72-percent shooter from the line this season, had a rare miss on the front end of the one-and-one to give NYU one last shot at victory. After a Violet timeout, fourth-year big man Jason Boone fielded the three-quarter-court inbounds pass at the free throw line and turned to his right to find fourth-year guard Matt Basford cutting behind the three point line.

Flashing the type of hustle the Maroons were producing all night and swooping in with a game-saving play, first-year guard Jake Pancratz dove across the parquet and fought for the loose ball on the floor, preventing Basford from getting off a shot from any position other than the seat of his pants.

“Coach put me in to take away the shot from whoever I was guarding,” Pancratz said. “So the NYU kid actually said something to me like, ‘Do you think I can hit this shot?’ So when I saw the pass go up I just had a feeling that my man was gonna catch it, so I just did everything I could to stop him from getting it.”

It was a fitting conclusion to a game where neither team was able to get much separation on the scoreboard. While the Maroons did build a 10-point lead early in the first half at 17–7, the game settled into the expected back-and-forth, grind-it-out affair. With Boone and fourth-year forward Daniel Falcon both averaging nearly a double-double, Chicago relied on stingy team defense and aggressive offensive drives to neutralize the interior threat. Boone managed game highs in points (19) and rebounds (11), but was forced to play through much of the game in foul trouble. Falcon picked up his fifth foul after only 22 minutes of action and was largely a non-factor in the contest with seven points and two boards.

“The bigs have been tremendous,” fourth-year guard Jesse Meyer said. “We have—to McGrath’s credit—been very well prepared for games against bigger opponents, and our bigs have done just a hell of a job of listening and just competing.”

Leading the way on both ends for the Maroons, Hainje finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds, while Woodhead chipped in another 14 to go with 3 boards and 3 assists. Fourth-year point guard Drew Adams added 11 points, including two huge free throws to provide the final 62–60 margin over the Violets.

Sparing fans a repeat of Friday’s drama, the Maroons made quick work of Brandeis Sunday afternoon. Chicago jumped out to the early lead, then went on a 20–5 run to build its largest lead of the game, a 24-point spread at 44–20. They entered the break in total control of the game with a 46–24 lead.

Stuck at 184 career three-pointers heading into the contest, Meyer provided the only drama of the game’s opening half, hitting his first trey at the 17:30 mark, then drilling the record-breaker two minutes later. The shot moved him past Andy Strommen (A.B. ’85) on the all-time list.

The otherwise impeccable performance of the first stanza was marred, though, by the loss of Watson midway through play. The center had been coming into his own over the past few weeks, stepping up his efficiency on the offensive and defensive ends.

Despite a second-half dissent by Brandeis, the verdict was effectively in by halftime. The Judges cut the deficit to 12 with 4:16 left, but the Maroons hit their free throws to win.

Woodhead submitted one of the finest performances of his career in the win, submitting 18 points, 10 assists, and 6 steals. In addition to Woodhead’s double-double, Hainje filled out the stat sheet with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Following up his Friday heroics, Pancratz added 15 points, while third-year forward Matt Corning added 10 points.

“I think our confidence is high because we’ve won because we’ve played hard; we’ve competed,” Meyer said. “All those victories that we’ve had—every one of them has been a grind. Every one of them has been a battle and we have consistently found ways to win, and I think when that occurs the confidence inevitably rises.”