February 17, 2009

Pancratz sinks last-second three pointer to lift Chicago past Emory

The breaks haven’t been going men’s basketball’s direction this season. That changed in a big way this Sunday.

With five seconds left on the game clock, the Maroons were trailing 51–50 at Emory. After a timeout, they had to inbound the ball from beneath the Eagles’ basket. With the ball in play, the plan Chicago drew up broke down, and after a bit of improvisation, the ball ended up in the hands of third-year Jake Pancratz, who launched a shot from beyond the arc.

In a season this tough, it was the sort of opportunity you’d expect to leave the Maroons disappointed. Not this time. The shot fell, time expired, and Chicago (5–17, 5–6 UAA) left Atlanta with a 53–51 win over Emory (6–16, 1–10). It was the fourth win in six games for the Maroons, who had lost 66–59 at Case Friday night.

“It was a combination of enthusiasm and ‘We were due this one,’” head coach Mike McGrath said of his team’s reaction to the shot by Pancratz. “We had a lot of games that we haven’t pulled out like that down the stretch, and I think the team really felt like, ‘You know what, we had this coming.’”

The win didn’t come quite as easily as it might have, though. With just seven minutes to play, the Maroons were up by 12 points, and that solid lead had to dwindle away before Pancratz could pull out the late-game heroics.

The Eagles’ run in the final minutes wouldn’t have been possible if several different factors hadn’t aligned. Chicago’s offense slowed down some, and Emory made a few low-percentage shots. They also made some high-percentage shots when the referees put them on the line after some questionable calls. And the Maroons’ defense lagged at times.

“We had a couple defensive lapses, where I felt we gave them too many shots,” McGrath said. “But we played great defense over the course of the game, I really can’t complain too much. But we just had a couple breakdowns in there.”

After pulling their way back into the game, Emory took a one-point lead, 51–50, on a layup by forward Chad Hixon with 48 seconds left in the game. The Eagles regained possession and were set to run out the clock, but got whistled for an off-the-ball foul with five seconds remaining, giving Chicago possession under the Emory basket.

The Maroons’ last play, as it was originally drawn up, had the ball going to fourth-year forward Adam Machones. But Machones was tripped as he moved to get open, and when no foul was called, Chicago had to look elsewhere. First-year guard Michael Sustarsic, who was inbounding, passed it in to Kinsella, who found Pancratz in position for a three. Pancratz drilled it, and that was all she wrote.

“[I]t was pretty sweet to hear their fans go quiet after impressively heckling us all game, they had done some Facebook research on a few of our guys, myself included,” Pancratz said.

Pancratz, the only Maroon to score in double-figures on the day, finished with 12 points. Fourth-year center Tom Watson chipped in seven, and Machones had eight.

Just two days earlier, Machones had exploded for 19 of Chicago’s 34 first-half points at Case. Due in large part to his productivity, the Maroons carried a five-point lead into the break, but that edge was erased early in the second half, when guard Kevin Herring hit back-to-back threes to put the Spartans up 41­–39. The hosts never really pulled away, and Chicago even managed to take a couple small leads with less than 10 minutes to play.

The Maroons were down just two until Herring hit another trey with 1:06 remaining, and with time waning, Chicago had to resort to fouling. It was to no avail, though, as Case connected on seven of eight free throws in the last minute to seal the 66­–59 win.

“We just struggled to make perimeter shots,” McGrath said.

On the day, the Maroons went 9–29 from distance, but they made just four of their 17 second-half attempts. The Spartans, for their part, managed to hit three of seven tries from distance in the second half, and they shot better than 57 percent from the field.

“I thought once we got going in the second half, we would be in pretty good shape, but the shots just never dropped for us,” McGrath said.

Machones led the Maroons with 22 points, while Kinsella chipped in 19.

After the split weekend, Chicago now sits fifth in the conference. Rochester (15–7, 6–5), who the Maroons meet Friday, is just ahead of them in the standings. On Sunday, Chicago will play Carnegie (17–5, 7–4), which is tied for second in the league.