[img id="77031" align="alignleft"] The men’s basketball team couldn’t find their first win of the season Wednesday night against second-ranked Augustana. They’ll have to settle for finding the heart and energy that this team needs to be a contender this season.
Fourth-year guard Jordan Delp sucked the life out of a 10-point Chicago comeback when his turn-around fade-away from just inside the three-point line with 2.5 seconds left gave Augustana a 58–57 win over the Maroons.
Still winless on the season, Chicago played its most complete game of the year in terms of energy on the court. Fourth-year guard Matt Corning scored a game-high 18 points and gathered eight rebounds, while third-year guard Jake Pancratz gave the South Siders a boost with 15 of his 16 points coming in the second half.
“I thought we competed. They’re a good basketball team. I think part of why they’re so good is that they play very, very hard, and I think we matched that intensity, if not surpassed it,” head coach Mike McGrath said.
Augustana looked to set the tone early, taking a 6–2 lead three minutes into the contest and applying a high-octane defense that forced Chicago to pass around the perimeter for much of their shot clock.
“They play an in-your-face, pressure defense, and that’s something we’re used to playing in the UAA,” said Corning. “But they got us back on our heels from the start, and we’ve had a hard time coming out strong.”
Playing with a sense of urgency that was lacking in the opening weekend, the Maroons stayed within reach of the three-time reigning CCIW conference champions. Chicago limited Augustana’s scoring opportunities with an 18–12 advantage in rebounding and extended their own trips down the floor with seven offensive boards in the opening period.
Even with the second-chance opportunities and low offensive production by the Vikings, though, the Maroons found themselves in a 16–8 midway through the first half. Shooting just 35.7 percent from the field, compared to the Vikings’ 52.2 percent, the Maroons struggled to convert their open looks at the basket for much of the opening 20 minutes.
With the Vikings looking to break the game open, the Maroons looked to the post, where Corning and fourth-year center Tom Watson traded baskets, cutting the Augustana lead to two. One Viking basket later, third-year forward John Kinsella sunk a three that cut the lead to one.
The Vikings reclaimed control of the game, but the Maroons were able to limit their halftime deficit to 29–25, as third-year forward Marek Kowalewski knocked down two free throws with four seconds left and then blocked a shot as time expired.
“I went into the game before and said we need to approach this game where everybody is saying, ‘What can I do to make this team successful?’” McGrath said. “I said, ‘We needed to put more emotion in this game [than the last two games], and we’ve done that, now let’s just find way to win.’”
The Vikings upped the ante coming out of the break, looking to put the Maroons away early on the strength of a 13–5 run. The Maroons were on the brink of a 0–3 start for the first time since the 1988–1989 season, and they needed a spark to ignite a struggling offense.
“The focus was, ‘Yeah, they pulled away a little bit, but the game’s not over; we’re still in this. Let’s stay focused,’” Corning said.
It was a good time for third-year guard Jake Pancratz to find his shot.
Pancratz, who had missed each of his six first-half shots, took over for the Maroons, hitting two threes and scoring 12 of the Maroons’ first 17 points of the period.
“Throughout the course of entire game, and really the entire season, Jake’s defended really, really well. We put him on a pretty good kid last night [Delp], and he limited looks quite a bit. Sometimes it doesn’t show up how much he’s giving us. When he’s out there, he’s talking the most, he inspires kids the most, and he’s always done that,” McGrath said. “The difference between yesterday and the Illinois Tech game, for example, was that he got it turned around [offensively]. He didn’t overthink things; he just said, ‘I’m going to make this shot.’”
The point guard’s string of jumpers injected life into Chicago’s offense, as he started and ended a 9–0 run that got Chicago to within one at 41–40 with 10 minutes left in the game.
“I thought the key there was, I don’t think we got rattled,” McGrath said. “We came down and hit a couple big shots, we didn’t turn ball very much, and we didn’t give up anything on defense. I think that kept the bench into it, kept fans into it. We weren’t going to get rattled when things got tough.”
Augustana maintained a small lead for the next several minutes, once again benefiting from 57.1-percent field goal shooting.
Continuing to outrebound the Vikings in the second half, the Maroons stayed within striking distance and eventually got a boost from Kinsella, whose three-pointer with 4:10 left cut Augustana’s lead to 51–50. Two trips later, with his team down by one, fourth-year forward Adam Machones sunk another three, giving Chicago its first lead since the opening moments of the game.
Corning and fourth-year guard Alex Washington hit matching free throws before fourth-year forward Justin Bertrand sunk one of two from the line to cut the Maroons’ margin to 57–56. An unsuccessful trip down the court for Chicago gave Augustana the final possession.
Coming out of a timeout with 9.2 seconds left, the Vikings ran a high screen for Delp, whose turn-around jumper from a few feet beyond the free throw line all but ended the Maroons’ comeback.
“In the end what you’ve got to do to beat a good team is you’ve got to compete, and you’ve got to find a way to get it done,” McGrath said. “No matter what works against you, you’ve got to find a way, and that’s the next step for us.”