It would be an understatement to say that men’s basketball finds itself in a deep hole early on in the 2008 campaign.
The hole got deeper Saturday afternoon as fourth-year guard Brian Centella’s layup with 2.7 seconds remaining sent the Maroons (0–5) to a 64–62 loss to Loras (2–2) in double overtime, marking the first time Chicago has started the season 0–5 since 1952–53.
“We’re not having the kind of success we expected,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “We’re on our heels.”
Fourth-year forward Ricky Kolze had Chicago defenders on their heels all afternoon, scoring a game-high 24 points, including two overtime threes that helped the Duhawks keep their advantage late in the contest. Fourth-year guard Matt Corning led the Maroons in scoring with 20 points, seven of which came in the bonus periods.
The contest started out as a defensive struggle, with Chicago leading 27–24 at halftime. Chicago’s first-half defense forced Loras to shoot 31 percent from the field, while Loras held an 18–13 rebounding advantage at the break.
In the second half, Chicago continued a respectable day from the field with a 45-percent field goal shooting mark but struggled from three-point territory, converting about a quarter of its triples. Loras, on the other hand, surged in the second half, utilizing its 12–6 offensive rebounding advantage to obtain several second chances, also raising its field-goal percentage to 43 percent in the second stanza.
With nearly 15 minutes left in the contest, Chicago looked to make a permanent run to seize control of the game with a 36–31 advantage on a Corning three-pointer.
Loras, however, showed some resiliency down the stretch, taking the game right back from Chicago to hold a commanding 52–47 advantage with 1:38 to go. The Maroons not only lost the rebounding battle, but they struggled to contain the Duhawks’ dribble-penetration, which often saw Kolze and Centella drive to the basket and find the open man or earn a trip to the free throw line.
Those trips to the free throw line didn’t mean free points for Loras, however, as the Duhawks went ice cold from the charity stripe late in regulation. Loras had many opportunities to ice the game for good, but they failed to deliver, missing six straight free throws at the end of regulation and into the first overtime.
Corning came up big for the Maroons, leading the Maroons in scoring for the fifth straight game, but he struggled to efficiently earn those points, going 6–17 from the field.
“Our offense revolves around Matt,” said McGrath. “It’s early in the year, and he’s struggling a bit, but he’ll be fine by the end of the season.”
Corning delivered down the stretch, knocking down a jumper with 33 seconds left and converting one of two free throws to send the game to overtime. Similarly, with Chicago down 57–54 in the first overtime, Corning’s three tied the game once again, ultimately giving the South Siders another overtime.
The Maroons had two chances to end the game early but fell short on both occasions. In regulation, Corning’s missed first attempt from the line meant overtime. The South Siders missed another opportunity at the end of the first bonus period when they weren’t able to get a shot off as time expired.
Those missed opportunities left the door open for Loras to capitalize in the second overtime. A three point lead with 20 seconds left had the Maroons on the verge of their fifth loss, but Chicago found another clutch shot, this time in the form of a deep three by third-year guard John Bonelli.
With the game tied for the 16th time, the Duhawks raced up the floor and eventually set up Centella’s bucket with time winding down.
Unlike the end of regulation, Loras held on for good this time, dropping Chicago to 0–5 for the season in their 64–62 away-game triumph. Saturday’s loss was the second time Chicago has lost on a shot in the final three seconds, losing in similar fashion to second-ranked Augustana.
Chicago played its best game from the post this season, as fourth-year center Tom Watson scored a career-high 15 points to go with four assists and seven rebounds in 42 minutes of play.
“Against Loras, lots of guys made big plays throughout the game,” Watson said. “We competed better than we had in previous games, and we can build off of that.”
With third-ranked Wheaton coming into town on Wednesday night, Chicago will have to contain the Thunder’s all-American shooting guard, fourth-year Kent Raymond, in order to tally their first win of the year.
“The message is simple,” McGrath said. “Stay the course, be a good teammate, keep working hard, and things will work themselves out.”