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Coming off a three-game losing streak, the men’s basketball team pulled off two conference victories in front of the dynamic home crowd. The Maroons defeated Case, in dramatic fashion, 71–66 in overtime on Friday, and they rattled Carnegie off the court on Sunday with a score of 86–76. They improved their record to 4–3 in the UAA and 7–11 overall.
Going into Friday’s game, the Maroons focused on aggressive low-post positioning from their big men.
“Case is a really big team,” third-year guard Tommy Sotos said. “We needed to keep them from getting too many offensive rebounds.”
The Maroons were able to do just that. By allowing only three offensive rebounds to Case in the first half, the Maroons never let the game go out of hand. The most Case led by was three points, whereas the most the Maroons led by was four points. Considering the tightness of the match, the Maroons needed to retain their focus.
“The plan was to take it possession by possession,” Sotos said.
Going into halftime, the Maroons led the Spartans 25–24. Head coach Mike McGrath urged his players to maintain the drive and determination they exhibited in the first half.
“We didn’t have any major adjustments,” McGrath said. “I just reminded [the team] about the little things they need to pay attention to.”
The second half was just as close as the first. Despite impressive double-digit scoring performances in the match by third-year forward Steve Stefanou, third-year forward Tom Williams, and third-year guard Matt Johnson, Case contained the Maroons throughout the second half, causing 13 lead changes.
With just under 30 seconds remaining in the game, Case’s Austin Fowler scored a crucial lay-up, bringing the Spartan lead to three. McGrath called a well-needed timeout for the Maroons to discuss their last drive.
“We ran a play we were familiar with,” McGrath said.
As seconds ticked off the clock, the Maroons got the ball into the hands of Tom Williams. The crowd went wild as Williams sunk the three-pointer to tie the game at 57 with 13 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.
“The play went pretty much as executed,” McGrath said. “Case was more concerned about Johnson shooting the three.”
In overtime, crucial three-pointers by Stefanou and third-year guard Michael Sustarsic, with the combination of precise free-throw shooting by the Maroons, sealed the victory, defeating the Spartans 71–66. Johnson led the game in scoring with 25 points.
“Sometimes it’s more satisfying to get a close win,” Sotos said.
Although the dramatic victory on Friday was necessary to keep the Maroons alive in the UAA standings, Sunday’s conference game against Carnegie loomed. The Maroons felt that, although they were pleased with Friday’s performance, Carnegie was another conference threat.
“It a whole new game,” Sotos said. “I’ve never bought into the idea that momentum can transfer from Friday to Sunday.”
Early on, it seemed as if Sotos was correct. The Maroons, eight minutes into the game, were down 14 points.
“The energy wasn’t there in the first half,” Sotos said.
However, the Maroons slowly regained their composure. The Maroons shot 48 percent from the field and 46 percent from behind the arc. Led by Johnson’s 20 points in the first half, the Maroons saw their deficit dwindle to one point at halftime.
“Johnson went bonkers in the first half,” Sotos said.
The Maroons brought their first-half momentum into the second half. In spite of impressive shooting during the first half, the Maroons maximized their statistics in the second half of action. The Maroons shot 50 percent from the field and 58 percent from behind the arc.
“We have a variety of guys that can shoot the ball well,” McGrath said. “You hope that one or two shooters are doing well in a given game.”
More than two shooters did well against Carnegie Mellon, as first-years Derrick Davis and Sam Gage, along with Williams and Johnson, had double-digit scoring performances. Johnson led the game, mirroring Friday’s 25 points as the Maroons cruised to a victory with a score of 86–76.
The Maroons’ spectacular performance this past weekend brings them into a tie with Wash U for third place in the UAA standings.
They play both Case and Carnegie Mellon away this weekend, matches in which they hope to mirror the results of this past weekend.
“If we can get wins, we can get in the thick of things,” McGrath said. “Everything can change in a weekend.”