January 29, 2008

Men's hoops stuns Judges, trounces NYU

Men’s basketball has put up a four-game winning streak before, but this one seems to mean a little something more. Coming against UAA foes, the latest string of victories shows a squad that can handle higher-caliber teams as it gets increasingly comfortable with its starting five.

On the road to battle second-ranked Brandeis (12–4, 2–3 UAA) Friday, third-year guard Matt Corning lifted the Maroons to a 79–77 comebacker, packing the scoreboard with 27 points. Sunday Corning paced the offense once again, draining a game-high 15 points as Chicago torched NYU (10–6, 1–4) 61–44. Now 11–5 overall and 4–1 in the league, the South Siders look like they’re ready to make trouble for opponents.

“We’re definitely finding our rhythm a bit,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “I look forward to seeing us improve even more.”

The turnaround has come on the heels of a 76–50 lashing from seventh-ranked Wash U (14–2, 5–0) to open league play January 12. Rebounding from that game, the South Siders have shown that when their backs are against the wall, they can fight their way back in.

“The Wash U game was a big letdown,” third-year forward and first-time starter Adam Machones said. “The past two weekends we’ve been competing extremely hard and we’ve been taking care of the little things.”

Down 9–0 to the Judges in the opening three minutes of the matchup, the Maroons demonstrated how far they’ve come since day one. Chicago bounced back from the early deficit to keep its hosts from running up the score and forced a game of runs and counter runs.

A three-pointer by second-year forward John Kinsella with 1:42 left in the half gave Chicago its only lead before the break at 32–31. Brandeis answered quickly with a layup to regain the upper hand, and a missed trey by Kinsella followed by a jumper off the mark from Corning sent the squad into the locker rooms lagging by a point, 33–32.

Returning to the floor, the Maroons continued to challenge the Judges’ rule of their home court. A minute and a half into play, Corning sank a shot from beyond the arc for a 37–35 Chicago advantage that started a series of five lead exchanges before the final buzzer. The trey also opened up the floodgates for Corning’s scoring.

While the first half saw Corning put up nine points, in the second stanza the team’s top scorer (17.9 ppg) drove his way to the basket for another 18. His total 27 points on the night are two shy of his season-high mark.

“I always knew it was possible for him to have this kind of season. It was just a matter of being physically and mentally prepared,” said McGrath on Corning’s first year as a starter.

“He’s been shooting the ball really well and finishing plays at the rim,” Machones said. “He has been big for us all year.”

What makes Corning really dangerous for opposing defenses, though, is the overall depth of the Maroons as a whole. Fourth-year forward Nate Hainje continues to be a force with 13.9 points per game and a team-high rebounding average of 6.2. Then there’s second-year point guard Jake Pancratz scoring at an 11.4 clip and Kinsella providing a spark off the bench.

“I think it’s really hard to can a single player on our team,” McGrath said. “If other teams can do that, then we have other guys who will score.”

The cohesive offense came together for one final run against the Judges with 5:08 left in the match to nail down the come-from-behind win. Chicago went on a 9–0 tear that gave the team just enough space to stay ahead of Brandeis as time ran out. In that stretch, Corning got things rolling with back-to-back three-pointers, drawing a foul as he drained one and sinking the ensuing free throw.

“Matty’s four-point play was huge. It gave us all the momentum and quieted the crowd,” Machones said. “During that stretch we were able to buckle down and get stops on defense. The key was how we handled their pressure defense. We played with composure, didn’t force anything, and found the shots we wanted.”

After Chicago gained a little wiggle room, a three-pointer by second-year guard Andre Roberson brought Brandeis worryingly close at 79–77 with nine seconds remaining, before two missed free throws by Pancratz left it as the final score.

“It was a game of runs,” McGrath said. “They made the last run and ended a little bit short.”

Sunday’s matchup against the Violets wasn’t nearly as close a shave as Chicago cruised to a 20–5 lead in the first seven minutes and ended the half out of NYU’s reach with a 37–19 advantage. Pushing up the score, Corning raked in 10 of his 15 points on the day for his 14th double-digits effort in 18 games this winter. Second-year guard John Bonelli also packed a punch, coming off the bench for nine points, all on threes.

The offensive barrage continued after the break as the South Siders outshot the Violets 50 percent to 34 percent from the field in the second half. Their 39–27 advantage on the boards, led by Machone’s game-high nine rebounds, helped keep the ball out of NYU’s hands and opened up more scoring opportunities en route to the 66–44 smashing.

From here, the Maroons will try to keep their composure as they finish up their first-round look at the UAA. They’ll take on Carnegie Mellon (11–5, 1–4) Friday in Pittsburgh before heading to Rochester to take a swat at the first-ranked Yellowjackets (15–1, 4–1).

“Winning on the road is tough to do in the UAA, so these two wins are very important and put us in a good position to win the conference,” Machones said. “If we can get two more next weekend we should be in the driver’s seat. Things are starting to come together for us. The rest of the year should be pretty exciting.”