It's official: the Chicago basketball program is now in the business of shattering the postseason hopes of its conference rivals.
Not a week after the women's team crushed Brandeis University's tournament bid, the men's team handed the same early end to the archrival Bears of Washington University, ranked 23rd in Division III. The lopsided 79-64 season finale on Saturday night before a large Maroon crowd capped a fantastic 10-2 home record. The Maroons finished their season with six wins in their final seven games, all within the University Athletic Association.
Rivalries and upsets are often considered the two most exciting and most common aspects of college basketball. When a powerhouse like Washington comes into the Ratner Center and nearly gets blown out of the building, the emotional lift for the home team and its fans is at its highest point.
Such was the case on Saturday night, as Chicago bid farewell to the team's three fourth-years, forwards Scott Fisher and Scott Green and guard Mike Lowney.
Looking for a marquee win to bring meaning to an otherwise difficult 12-13 season, the Maroons entered Saturday night's contest against Washington confident that their recent hot shooting would continue and that an upset was imminent.
The Bears desperately needed a win over Chicago for a chance at an at-large bid to the Division III men's tournament. A loss to the unranked Maroons would surely kill any postseason hopes.
The game started out well for the Bears as they took an early 10-2 run. However, this was the last time the Bears would hold the lead as the Maroons struck back, led by Fisher and Lowney. Chicago rallied to take a 37-27 lead, which was capped by third-year Brian Cuttica's long-range buzzer-beater at the half.
The Maroons' spirits were high heading into the locker room. Their normally paltry shooting was up near 50 percent and even defensive role players such as Lowney were making three-pointers.
Said Cuttica, "We knew that if we kept shooting the way we were, we could pull off this upset."
The Maroons started off the second half as well as they ended the first, going on a 13-3 run with the same high level of accuracy they had in the first half. At that point Chicago's lead of 50-30 was its largest of the night.
"At this point we knew we were going to win," Fisher said. "Everything was going our way, and we were playing with extreme confidence."
Fisher, playing in his last-ever collegiate basketball game, paced the Maroons all night from the low post. He scored 19 total points and his dominant presence down low caused problems for the Bears' defense all night.
Washington made a run to close the gap to nine with just under nine minutes to play, but the Maroons soon tightened the noose. Third-year guard Justin Waldie made consecutive runners to get the lead back to 13, and the Bears never trailed by less than 10 for the rest of the night. In addition to Fisher, Cuttica and third-year Mike Dolezal scored in double figures, with 13 and 14 points respectively.
For the Bears, a long six-hour bus ride filled with uncertainty loomed ahead as the players pondered their postseason prospects. The inevitable denial came late Sunday night from the NCAA selection committee.
The Bears 19-6 record (11-3 UAA) was definitely good enough for the post-season, but their loss to the Maroons on the last day of the regular season was bad enough to make the NCAA look elsewhere for an at-large contender.
"I am so happy that we kicked them out of the tournament," said the jubilant Lowney. "This validated our season for us seniors."