A roller coaster ride of a season is ending on a downward spiral for men's basketball.
The Maroons (10-14, 6-7) lost both games of their final homestand of the season, falling 70-59 to Rochester on Friday and letting a tight one slip away against Carnegie Mellon 75-73 Sunday. The defeats dropped them to fifth place in the league, and guaranteed the team back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1993-1995.
Entering the weekend, Chicago was in a respectable position, tied for third in the conference. The Maroons were prepared to do some damage against the top two teams in the league at Ratner, where they held an undefeated mark against UAA squads on the season. The 20th-ranked Yellowjackets, who had already clinched a share of the league title, had something to say about that.
Despite fielding a complete starting lineup for the first time in weeks, the Maroons trailed from the start, never finding the offensive rhythm or defensive intensity that they had displayed during previous home games. The hustling Rochester squad out-shot and out-rebounded Chicago, building a 34-21 lead by the end of a low-scoring first half. The Maroons stepped it up during the second, going on a 20-7 run to tie things up at 48 with eight minutes remaining. Rochester bounced back, however, and pulled away with the game in the last five minutes for the 11-point victory.
Third-year forward Clay Carmody led the Maroons with 19 points, while the guard trio of fourth-year Brian Cuttica, fourth-year Justin Waldie, and second-year Brandon Woodhead finished with a combined 14 points on 4-for-18 shooting from the field. Second-year reserve Jesse Meyer and first-year Nate Hainje kept the Maroons in the game through their strong play off the bench, contributing 13 and 11 points respectively.
Despite the scoring disparity, Chicago and Rochester shot a similar percentage from the field, roughly 45 percent. The Yellowjackets won the rebounding (37-26) and assist (15-12) battles, out-executing and out-hustling the Maroons on both sides of the court.
With Rochester handing Chicago its first conference home loss last Friday, the Maroons looked to bounce back against Carnegie, the league's second-ranked team, in a Sunday matinee.
It was a close game from the start. Chicago took an early lead after tip-off, and the Tartans battled back to take a 42-39 lead into halftime. The second half began much like the first half, with the Maroons going on an early run to tie the game at 48-48 five minutes into the half. The Tartans responded with a run of their own, ultimately extending their lead to as much as 11 points with eight minutes left. The Maroons battled back, taking a 71-70 lead with two minutes remaining. However, the Tartans did not quit, and squeezed by the Maroons, 75-73, in Chicago's home finale.
The Maroons played a very balanced contest, with four out of the five starters scoring in double figures. Carmody once again lead the Maroons with 19 points, but it was not enough to overcome the Tartans. The Maroons played a very good game against CMU, grabbing more rebounds and shooting a better field goal, free throw, and three-point percentage than the Tartans. However, the 14 turnovers committed by the Maroons lead to easy transition baskets for CMU, and in the end, two points separated these two teams in a very hard fought battle. With the victory, CMU at least clinched a share of second place in the UAA standings, and with their third consecutive defeat, Chicago dropped to fifth place.
The Maroons will play their season finale on Saturday, February 26 at Washington University. Regardless of the outcome, the Maroons are destined for their second consecutive losing season after an eight-year run with winning records. However, despite the graduation of fourth-years Waldie, Cuttica, and Dolezal, the Maroon future is set with the play of second-year guard Brandon Woodhead as an all-around guard, the establishment of second-year guard Jesse Meyer as a constant outside threat, and the development of first-year forward Nate Hainje as a low post presence. With a win next Saturday, Chicago can finish a disappointing year off on a positive note, not only defeating the rival Washington Bears and ending the season with a .500 conference record and a top four UAA finish, but more importantly, ending the careers of three Maroons with a victory.