January 27, 2009

Streaky shooting, shaky defense plague South Siders in two more losses

Last week’s win over Emory put the chances of a men’s basketball comeback on the table. Three straight losses later, the Maroons’ hope has been swept off the court as the team now tries to avoid being swept into the books as one of Chicago’s worst teams in recent history.

It’s been a downward slide all season for the Maroons, who fell to 1–15 overall and 1–4 in the UAA after a pair of losses to Carnegie (13–3, 3–2) and Rochester (12–4, 3–2) over the weekend. While the squad picked up a boost with last weekend’s win over the Eagles, the Maroons’ 64–58 loss to the Tartans and 70–60 loss to the Yellowjackets has the South Siders back to the drawing board.

“We are a better basketball team than the record indicates,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “We will continue to go out there and work hard. It’s a group thing and a team game, and we will continue to look to our upperclassmen for leadership.”

Confidence was the key in Friday’s matchup against Carnegie, with the Tartans capitalizing on their size and physicality. The Maroons’ shooting faltered in the first half, as the South Siders shot just 26 percent from the field and converted only 10 of 18 free throw attempts in the period.

“A big factor in the game of basketball is confidence. When you can get that early and keep it going, you have a big advantage over the opponents,” McGrath said.

Battling to prevent another defeat, the Maroons stepped up their defensive game. Playing zone shut down the Carnegie offense long enough for Chicago’s own shooters to get back in the game. Down 52–38 with under 10 minutes remaining, the Maroons launched a 20–8 run, with fourth-year guard Matt Corning scoring six points and third-year Jake Pancratz and second-year Paul Riskus chipping in five apiece to cut the lead to 60–58 with 1:08 left.

As the clock ticked down under one minute, however, the Maroons couldn’t sustain their run. The Tartans hit their four free throws over the last 41 seconds, sealing the 64–58 final.

“They started the second half hot, but we were able to clamp down decently. We held them off and stretched out the clock. Carnegie isn’t good at shooting from the perimeter, but they are a very physical team,” McGrath said. “Our defense was strong, but our offense wasn’t pretty, and we were just looking for an opening.”

Chicago continued their search for that opening into the second game of this weekend’s double-shot, finding it at Rochester in the form of a 36–28 lead at the half. Third-year John Kinsella headed an offensive push that featured 60 percent shooting in the opening period.

What began with the Maroons’ most efficient half of the season, however, quickly turned sour, as guard Mike Chmielowiec sparked a 17–2 run out of the break. The UAA’s top scorer sunk back-to-back three pointers to start the period, starting the hosts’ six minute scoring run.

Falling apart under the offensive pressure, Chicago slid to a 54–42 deficit by 10:01, one which they would not recover from. While Kinsella’s career-high 23 points helped the Maroons stay within reach, Rochester was able to keep their lead and win it 70–60.

“That’s the state of the game: You start hitting shots, and you start feeling good. They had the shots, and they had the confidence,” McGrath said.

With games at NYU (13–3, 2–3) and Brandeis (11–5, 4–1) next weekend, Chicago will be faced with the task of shoring up their defense and shooting more consistently on the road, always dangerous territory in the UAA.

“These will be very challenging games, but also very different games. NYU runs the Princeton offense, very mobile with lots of cuts. Brandeis is just an overall athletic team, and we will see how we do against these opposing styles,” McGrath said.