[img id="78043" align="alignleft"]
After an inconsistent first half of the season, men’s basketball is quickly building steam as they enter into UAA play.
The Maroons (9–7, 3–2) dominated Carnegie Mellon University (4–12, 0–5) from beginning to end in a 71-57 victory last Friday, and followed that up with a strong 72–69 win at Case Western University (9–7, 1–4) on Sunday.
“Carnegie Mellon and Case are both very competitive teams, but we controlled both games,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “I think we’ve been playing quite well recently, and we’re very capable of making a run at the UAA.”
The two wins are vindicating for the Maroons, who have shown signs of being better than what their record indicates. Chicago suffered a string of losses over winter break, but recently displayed flashes of promise in hard-fought matches against fourth-ranked Wash U and 15th-ranked Brandeis, and in a big win against NYU at Beach Night.
“I think that one bad stretch was mainly due to the emotional and physical tolls of the end of the quarter,” McGrath said. “But our leadership has been great throughout, and we didn’t get down just because things weren’t going our way.”
Against Carnegie Mellon, the Maroons jumped right out of the gates and never looked back. After storming to a 12–0 lead four minutes into the game, Chicago cruised to a commanding 41–25 advantage at the break. Chicago held comfortably for the rest of the contest, going up by as many as 25 points.
The Maroons shot an impressive 50 percent from the field in the decisive first half, and enjoyed a 24–10 rebounding edge, including seven offensive boards for 10 second-chance points.
“We were just quicker to the ball than they were,” McGrath said.
Fourth-year guard Jake Pancratz paced Chicago with 13 points and 5 assists, while second-year forward Tom Williams added 11 points and a Maroons season-high 16 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Chicago played especially admirable defense on guard Jack Anderson, the third-leading scorer in the UAA at 16.1 points per game, and limited him to just six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
Meanwhile, against Case, the Maroons showed that they can hang tough for 40 minutes and execute down the stretch, though they had some trouble shooting the ball. Chicago led for almost the entire time, but was not able to pull away like they did against Carnegie, and the game entered halftime knotted at 30.
In the second stanza, however, the Maroons were able to sustain a run capped off by a jumper from Pancratz that gave them a 57–47 edge at the 8:27 mark. Case was able to cut the lead down to four with 3:22 to go, but the Maroons preserved the game by attacking the basket, connecting on 8 of 9 free-throws in the closing minutes. The final score makes the game seem closer than it was, as Chicago had a comfortable 67–59 lead with only one minute left.
The Maroons launched a balanced attack led by Williams with 16 points. Second-year forward Steve Stefanou and fourth-year forward John Kinsella contributed 14 apiece, while second-year forward Paul Riskus added 12. Forward Alex Hildebrandt (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Reid Anderson (15 points, 3-for-3 on three pointers) led the way for Case, which trotted out a short, seven-player rotation.
From these two commanding wins, it seems like the Maroons are clicking at just the right time.
“We came to play with mental and physical sharpness,” McGrath said. “When we play like that, we can beat a lot of teams.”
The Maroons next play against tough UAA competition at Emory on Friday and at Rochester on Sunday.