The No. 16 Maroons kicked off conference play on a high note this past weekend, clinching a two-point victory over Wash U. With the win in St. Louis, the South Siders improved to 10–2 overall (1–0 UAA) and have extended their winning streak to an impressive nine games.
On Saturday, the Maroons found themselves down by two to the Bears in the final possession despite having had a whopping 18-point lead earlier in the second half. However, fourth-year forward Jordan Smith was able to take care of business, draining a three off a pass by fourth-year Nate Brooks with 21 seconds left to clench the win on the road. Veteran Smith has played a major role for the Maroons all season, averaging 12.1 points per game.
Getting a victory in the first game of conference play is crucial for Chicago’s confidence.
“Team morale is high. Being able to get a road win at Wash U is a great way to start off conference play. At the same time we still know we could’ve played a better overall game so there’s still a lot of room for improvements,” third-year guard Tyler Howard said.
The Maroons will be on the road again this coming weekend, as they travel to Pittsburgh and then to Cleveland to face off against Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve. The Carnegie Mellon Tartans are 7–5 overall and 0–1 in UAA play, as they fell by 15 points this past weekend to Case. Case, meanwhile is 8–4 overall and 1–0 in conference. As Chicago heads into the two games, the players know that they must put in a very good week of practice to be prepared.
“I think we’re very confident but we know we still have to improve on a lot of things in practice this week to prepare for Carnegie and Case,” Howard said. “They have some really talented players so we’ll have to do the best we can to prevent them from getting going.”
Second-year forward Ryan Shearmire echoed Howard’s sentiments. “We are ecstatic as a team. One of our biggest goals in our lifetime has been to win a UAA title, something which we have never done. This is a great first step in finding out who we are. This has to be our motto for the week: ‘Who are we?’ We are in the process of finding out if we are a great team, or simply a team that has won some games. We need to approach this week of practice with conviction,” Shearmire said.
The Case Spartans are averaging an impressive 88 points per game, which may prove difficult for the Chicago defense to stop. The Maroons know that they must focus on their defense and play as a unit to contain the Spartans’ dominant offense.
“As long as we treat every day as a ‘Big Day,’ then we will get big results,” Shearmire said withregard to this week of practice. “If we are on the same page, tuned in, and constantly connected on defense then we will be successful.”
Averaging 42.9 rebounds per game, the strength of the Tartans lies in their effort on the glass. A key component in Chicago’s success against Carnegie will be how well they crash the boards, both offensively and defensively. Fortunately, the Maroons are not far behind the Tartans in this statistic, as they are averaging a similar 41.7 rebounds per game. Second-year forward Collin Barthel will play a large part in the Maroons’ chances as he has been a spark off the bench, averaging 5.8 rebounds per game.
While Chicago is riding a nine-game winning-streak and Case has been victorious in its last two games, Carnegie has fallen in its last two games. After Smith’s game-winning three against the Bears on Sunday, he and his squad have the confidence and the energy it will take to defeat the Tartans and the Spartans.
The Maroons will play at Carnegie Mellon on Friday at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 11 a.m. they will take on Case Western.