November 28, 2006

Men's basketball rides strong defense before running out of steam

Leaving Ratner for the first time this season, the Maroons met with both success and failure on the road, extending their winning streak to four games before falling at the Trinity/Southwestern Thanksgiving Classic.

Heading to the suburbs, Chicago (4–1) trampled Lake Forest (3–1) with strong scoring on Tuesday, 66–39. After Thanksgiving, the team traveled to Texas for a tournament at Trinity, where a strong defense edged the Tigers (2–3) 60–57, but couldn’t stop Southwestern (4–1), dropping an early lead and lose 74–62.

Starting their on-the-road season against the Foresters, Chicago put up prolific scores in the first half, shooting 59.3 percent from the field. Although Lake Forest took the lead off the jump, the Maroons quickly countered to even things up. Back-to-back threes from third-year forward Nate Hainje and fourth-year guard Jesse Meyer gave the team its momentum, and the South Siders never looked back.

Stifled by a punishing Chicago defense, the Foresters netted only 4 of the next 36 points as the Maroons sailed to a 38–10 lead. A late effort gave Lake Forest five points in the final two minutes, but the Maroons held a comfortable 40–15 lead at the half.

Showing signs of life at the start of the second, Lake Forest tried to fight back, but the Maroons had other plans for their hosts, draining triple threes in two minutes to give themselves a 54–24 lead.

Struggling to avoid an absolute bloodbath as this lead increased to 61–26, the Foresters took their only time out of the half with 10 minutes remaining and came back out reinvigorated, bringing the game back to 63–39. However, this final effort couldn’t topple the Maroons’ dominate play as the buzzer ended the game at 66–39.

“We played really well against Lake Forest,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “It was a really good all around effort. We just played very, very good basketball. I think it was the best overall performance of the team so far.”

Heading south to battle Trinity in the tournament opener, Chicago faced strong competition but never trailed. After fourth-year guard Brandon Woodhead’s trey put the Maroons on the board, the team made nothing but triples in the first 10 minutes of the half. Woodhead, who led the team with 16 game points, rained down two more. Maintaining a comfortable lead for the rest of the half, Chicago led 30–19 at the buzzer.

Intent on winning at home, Trinity came out of the locker room determined, quickly coming within three points of Chicago as part of a second half scoring riot that saw their shooting percentage rocket from 26.9 percent in the first to 56.7 percent. A frantic time out from the Maroons couldn’t halt the Tigers’ momentum as the home team tied it up 32–32.

Sinking two threes in a minute, fourth-year guard Drew Adams let Chicago breathe easier, and a pair of baskets from fourth-year guard Derek Brannon plus a trey from third-year forward Tim Reynolds made it 45–36.  Still clawing for the ball, however, the Tigers trimmed the lead to 47–44. The Maroons widened this margin to 59–50 at the three minute mark, but found that the Tigers wouldn’t die quietly. Desperate for a win in the final minutes, Trinity managed to make it 60–57, but a strong Chicago defense left them looking for that final three as the buzzer rang.

“Our defensive effort against Lake Forest and Trinity was strong,” McGrath said. “Lake Forest didn’t get many open looks at all, and Trinity had a tough time scoring against us. It was really our defensive effort that gave us the wins.”

Ending their weekend in a battle with Southwestern for the tournament championship, the Maroons started off trailing, but gained possession of the lead off a layup from second-year forward Adam Machones. The Pirates stole the lead back to make it 21–19, but a field goal from Woodhead put Chicago up again, with frequent scoring from Woodhead and Hainje keeping the Maroons afloat for the remainder of the half.

As the second period started, Chicago led 38–27, but it became clear that a tired Maroons defense could no longer keep up with the bruisingly fast-paced style of the Pirates, who put up 15 points in the first five minutes to help make their second half shooting percentage an unstoppable 85 percent.

“We had a solid offense against Southwestern,” McGrath said, “although we didn’t finish as well as we could have, but I thought the defense was more of a problem. Southwestern was tough. They run a Princeton style offense, and (after beating Trinity in the first round) we only had an hour to prepare for them. They played very well, and we could have played much better D, and that made it a very tough second half for us”

Unable to both keep up with Southwestern’s offense and find room to score themselves, Chicago watched their lead slip away as a free throw from second-year forward Andrew McDonald made it 57–56. A crumbling Chicago defense let the Pirates sink a rash of threes to put them further in the cellar, 71–62, and Chicago managed only one basket in the final three minutes as the game ended 74–62.

“Southwestern played really well,” McGrath said, “about as well as they’ve played all year. And it was our worst performance of the year, especially in the second half.”

Despite the loss, the match was a showcase for Maroon talent, with Woodhead scoring a whopping 22 points and Adams grabbing 14 against Trinity. Knowing what kinks they need to work out, the season remains promising for the team.

“This team has really good depth,” McGrath said, “and a lot of guys that can shoot the basketball. If we find a way to score other than jump shots, we’re going to be pretty tough to guard.”