SPORTS

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January 13, 2009

Second-half shooting slump spoils conference opener against rival Wash U

[img id="77134" align="alignleft"] Men’s basketball’s 74–62 loss to Wash U Saturday afternoon has the Maroon faithful still puzzling over the season that should have been and hoping that 13 will be Chicago’s lucky number.

In a rematch of last season’s UAA championship, the Maroons (0–12, 0–1 UAA) stayed within striking distance through most of the contest but were never able to overcome the third-ranked Bears’ quick, balanced offensive attack.

“Washington’s just a tremendously well-coached, good offensive basketball team,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “I felt for the most part we did a really good job of taking away their transition game and limiting their set plays, but then their kids made some plays.”

Fourth-year guard Matt Corning scored a game-high 18 points, with classmate and forward Adam Machones adding 16. Meanwhile, the Bears (11–1, 1–0) had three scorers in double digits and were bolstered by 31 points off the bench.

With fourth-year Tom Watson watching from the bench, the Maroons tipped off with a small starting lineup, switching first-year Michael Sustarsic into the lineup in order to create mismatches for the taller Bears.

The defending national champions set the pace by going up 5–0 in the first minute, but in one of their best offensive halves of the season, the Maroons’ outside shooting kept the squad afloat. A balanced offense gave the South Siders two brief leads around four minutes into the game—their only leads of the game.

“We tried to push the ball and increase the tempo of the game,” Machones said. “Wash U is really good when they can get their defense set, but by pushing the ball like we did early on, they couldn’t get set and we got some good looks.”

Quick passes helped the Bears distribute their scoring early on, building a seven-point lead by the 13:31 mark. The Maroons, however, stayed hot from the land of plenty, scoring 15 of their first 17 points on three-pointers.

A 7–0 stretch just beyond midway through the first half helped Wash U to a 10-point lead, but Machones’s shooting kept Chicago close. With the lead floating in the high single digits for the rest of the half, the Maroons cut into the Bears’ lead slightly before the half, setting the score at 46–40 for the intermission.

“Their third, fourth, and fifth players made a lot of shots that weren’t really easy ones, and that prevented us from taking a lead into halftime,” McGrath said.

Wash U struck first out of the break, but Chicago responded with its most serious run of the game. Corning fueled a 9–3 stretch with a dunk followed shortly by a three that pulled his team to within two points at 51–49 four minutes into the half.

But while the Maroons would get to within two once again a few minutes later, they could never turn the corner. First-year Dylan Richter provided a major boost off the bench, scoring nine of his team-leading 13 points in the second half. After getting the score to 56–54 with 12:33 remaining, the Maroons went cold, allowing Wash U to rebuild their lead.

“We didn’t finish a couple of plays, and we turned the ball over a couple of times that led to layups for them; easy baskets off our turnovers helped stretch out that run a little bit,” McGrath said.

After losing the offensive groove that kept them close for most of the afternoon, Chicago slowly lost hold of the game, and Wash U stretched the lead to 14 with five minutes left, paving the way for their win.

“This was the first time all year we executed our gameplan both offensively and defensively while competing at a high level,” Machones said. “We need to be able to sustain these efforts in order to make a run at the UAA title.”

Although the game doesn’t help the South Siders in the win column, it provided a glimpse at the tools that could lift the Maroons in the future.

Machones’s first-half performance demonstrated the activity on offense that Maroons fans have been looking for, as the fourth-year was a perfect five-for-five from the field, including four three-pointers. Barring a couple of defensive lapses in the second half, Sustarsic turned in a quality performance, with nine points and four assists against two turnovers.

The 0–12 record jumps off the page for the Maroons, but McGrath also noted that Chicago lost blowouts to Wash U in the conference openers of the past two seasons before going on to win the UAA championship, whereas this year’s team stayed within reach of the Bears throughout the game.

The men have another chance at victory number one Friday when Emory (5–7, 0–1) comes to town as part of a double-shot weekend that also features Case (4–8, 1–0) on Sunday.