Coming off of a huge 20-point win over the then–No.1 Wash U Bears, the Maroons needed to avoid a post-upset letdown against Rochester University this past Friday.
Perhaps partially blinded by the neon shoelaces donned by the Chicago athletes or merely deafened by the roaring exuberance of the student section, the Yellowjackets seemed lost in the low post. Third-year forward Nate Brooks consistently dominated in the paint, manhandling whichever defender Rochester coach Luke Flockerzi deployed against him.
Brooks’s control was reflective of the team’s overall performance. However, despite seeming to be in the driver’s seat for the entirety of the half, the No. 21 Maroons entered the locker room at the half just a single point ahead with the score 37–36. With some turbulence, the home side was able to extend its lead to 12 points with just four fateful minutes remaining. Flockerzi motivated the troops with a rousing pep talk, and the Yellowjackets began to mount a comeback. The buckets started dropping for the Rochester squad and with 16 seconds remaining the Yellowjackets found themselves just four points back. The opposition was forced to foul, sending Chicago first-year forward Collin Barthel to the line. Barthel iced the game by hitting both of his foul shots and propelled the Maroons to their fifth straight victory.
The Yellowjackets were just an appetizer for the Maroons as they prepared to play host to the No. 12 Emory Eagles. The Sunday afternoon crowd was substantially less rowdy than that of the Neon Night festivities, but the Maroon squad was not so lackluster. Both teams struggled to provide the game with any real flow as the early activity of the officiating crew and the seemingly ineffective Eagles’ half-court defense prevented the formulation of any real tempo. However, as the half progressed, the Maroons built up a lead, and were it not for its defensive woes the home side would have found itself ahead by much more than nine points as it headed into the locker room for the intermission.
When the Maroons emerged from the 15-minute break, they appeared an entirely different team. Over the course of the next seven minutes the Maroons went 0/10 shooting and 0/4 from the line. Over the same time span the Emory Eagles mounted a 16–0 run, catapulting the visitors to a 50–43 lead. Barthel finally drained a three-pointer from the baseline to break the Eagles’ momentum. Showing much resilience, the Maroons inched their way back into the game, tying the game at 56 points apiece with just under eight minutes left in regulation.
The two sides exchanged the lead until with two and a half minutes remaining Barthel scored the old-fashioned three-pointer to put the Maroons up by three. The score held, until with just 41 seconds remaining third-year guard Jordan Smith hit a pull-up three with hands in his face and with about three feet from the top of the key. Moments later, he cemented the victory with a breakaway dunk.
While excited that the team was able to show such resilience in the match, third-year forward Alex Voss believes there is still room for improvement.
“The takeaway is that we can and will compete with every team in the country,” Voss said. “Emory is a really good team and they are going to make shots. We gave them too many easy looks with mental lapses but were able to overcome those mistakes. In the future we need to maintain our discipline and make them take tougher shots more consistently.”
The eventual 80–74 victory over the Eagles will provide the fuel for the Maroons’ grueling road trip this weekend to take on the Brandeis Judges (6–8) in Boston before squaring off with the 10–4 Violets of NYU in New York City just two days later. The Chicago squad is poised to take out the UAA bottom-feeders this weekend to try to catapult itself to a stand-alone spot atop the conference standings.