Putting together a four-game win streak over the break, it looked like men’s basketball had settled down after its up-and-down start and found its form. But, things could be getting choppy again for the Maroons with league play opening up a whole new ballgame.
In a rematch between the 2007 UAA co-champions, seventh-ranked Wash U (10–2, 1–0 UAA) got a major jumpstart over Chicago in claiming outright title ownership for this year. After getting hammered by the Bears to the tune of 76–50 Saturday in St. Louis, the South Siders have their work cut out for them in keeping pace with Wash U.
“Wash is not only a better basketball team than [the previous four] teams that we’ve beaten, but they also played very well,” head coach Mike McGrath said.
Missing shots early in the game, the Maroons let the Bears grab hold of a lead that they would hang onto for the entire night. Everything snowballed from there as Chicago managed a meager 24 percent from the field for the half while Wash U seemed to hit nothing but net, nailing baskets at a 65 percent clip to stack up a 37–22 lead by the break. Far from being shut down by the opposing defense, the team struggled to get into any scoring rhythm.
“After 10 minutes of the game, it was 12–4. We just couldn’t get started,” McGrath said. “Then they started scoring a little bit. It was a really strange start to the game that we had a hard time adjusting to.”
A number of disadvantages waited for the Maroons even before tip-off at the W.U. Field House. The Bears had the momentum of 21 consecutive wins at home, not to mention the experience of three returning starters on the floor to greet Chicago’s relatively green lineup. Of Wash U’s veterans, nobody hurt the Maroons more than fourth-year center Troy Ruths.
Plans to keep the ball out of Ruths’s hands fell through as the Bears found new ways to work around the Maroons and keep last season’s UAA Player of the Year in the middle of the action. By the half, Ruths had already posted 13 points and went on to double them in the second stanza for a game-high 26 points at the final whistle.
“He’s a very talented player, and they do a lot of good things with him,” said McGrath of Ruths. “They did a really good job of finding unique ways to get him the ball, and once he gets it, he’s really hard to stop.”
Joining Ruths in double-digits territory were third-year forward Tyler Nading, with 11 points, and fourth-year guard Danny O’Boyle, coming off the bench with 10.
Chicago’s answer for this trio came mostly from fourth-year forward Nate Hainje, who was the only Maroon to break the 10-point barrier with 16 on the night. Third-year guard Matt Corning, who tallied 18.3 points per game over the break to pace the squad, walked away from St. Louis with a season-low seven points. Saturday also marked the first time this year that Corning has not posted double figures on the scoreboard. With Corning and the other starters in a scoring slump, Hainje’s outing would not be enough for the team to close the gap on Wash U.
Returning from the intermission, the South Siders got a second dose of the first period. A 14–8 run by the Bears put the Maroons in an even deeper hole as their hosts went on to lead by at least 18 for the final 16 minutes of the contest. Heading to the showers, the squad had a heavy loss pinned on its record with season lows in points (50), field goals made (16), and shooting percentage (30%).
“As we missed shots, and they scored, I thought energy level increased defensively, and it took some of the wind out of our sails,” McGrath said. “Had the game started differently, I’m not sure that it would’ve gone that way.”
When the Bears visit Ratner March 1 to close the regular season, the Maroons will have another crack at asserting their co-champion status with Wash U. Until then the squad will get some more practice in with other top-notch UAA rivals. Case (7–5, 0–1) is next on the schedule, coming into town Friday for the third annual Beach Night with Emory (8–4, 1–0) slated for Sunday.