February 2, 2010

Overtime loss caps difficult weekend for men's basketball

After taking two steps forward by sweeping their Rust Belt road trip to Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve, men’s basketball promptly took two steps back, losing to both Emory and Rochester this past weekend.

Emory (13–5, 5–2) trounced Chicago (9–9, 3–4) 71–44 on Friday night. The Maroons fared better in Sunday’s contest against Rochester (13–5, 4–3), erasing a late six-point deficit to force overtime before ultimately falling 76–75 to the Yellow Jackets.

Chicago ranks in the bottom quarter of DIII in scoring offense and played to that ranking against Emory. The Maroons committed 10 first-half turnovers as opposed to only four for the Eagles and made just one of nine three-point attempts while Emory went six for 16 from beyond the arc. The result was that home team led 39–21 at the break.

Head coach Mike McGrath found it difficult to explain his team’s poor offensive showing.

“Emory did a couple things to us defensively that I thought we would be good at attacking,” he said. “We had some good looks but didn’t knock them in.”

Chicago managed to cut the deficit to 11 with 11:42 left in the second half but the Eagles immediately responded with an 18–0 run to put the game well out of reach.

Emory guard Austin Claunch led all players in both points and assists with 17 and 7, respectively. Fourth-year guard Jake Pancratz paced the Maroons with 13 points, while second-year forward Tom Williams chipped in eight rebounds and three blocks.

Second-year guard Matt Johnson believes that Chicago’s shooting struggles contributed to a more pervasive problem.

“As a team, I think sometimes we rely too much on making shots to give us energy,” he said. “When shots weren’t falling for us, I think we may have lost some focus and intensity, particularly on the defensive end.”

Some of that focus clearly returned against Rochester. The Maroons led for long stretches of a competitive first half that saw seven lead changes before the Yellow Jackets seized a 32–31 halftime advantage.

Early in the second half, Rochester increased their lead to seven and looked poised to draw off comfortably, but Chicago came back with a 16–5 run. Continuing the seesaw pattern, Rochester ripped off a 13–2 streak to restore their advantage.

The Yellow Jackets led by six with just 18 seconds remaining, but Johnson single-handedly eradicated that lead to force overtime. After hitting a three-pointer to cut the deficit to three, fourth-year forward John Kinsella fouled to send Rochester’s Milan Moncrief, an 82-percent free-throw shooter, to the line. Despite that impressive mark, the first-year missed both foul shots, leaving the door open for more heroics from Johnson in the final seconds.

“When I saw that we got the rebound off the free throw, I ran up court to the same spot where I hit the previous three,” he said. “Jake Pancratz brought the ball up the floor and hit ahead to me. I saw the defender flying at me, so I pump faked, took one dribble, and put the shot up.”

The shot dropped with just two seconds remaining to force overtime. In the extra period, it was Chicago who led with two seconds on the clock. Just as in regulation, the lead did not hold up.

Just moments after Williams gave the Maroons a one-point lead, Rochester guard David Gould drew a foul off the forward. Gould made both critical shots from the line to secure the narrowest of victories.

Rochester forward Nate Novosel was the game’s top scorer with 21 points. For Chicago, Williams led the way with his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 18 and pulling down 10 boards.

McGrath felt that his team was unlucky to lose in overtime but expressed the need to avoid such tight finishes altogether.

“You don’t want to leave it up to the last possession,” he said.