November 26, 2019

Men's Basketball Unable to Close Out in Midway Classics

The UChicago men’s basketball team hosted its annual Midway Classic tournament at Ratner Athletic Center over the weekend and, despite valiant efforts, the Maroons fell to DePauw and no. 8 Nebraska Wesleyan in a tough back-to-back stretch. No. 15 St. Thomas, who beat Nebraska Wesleyan in the first round of the four-team bracket, defeated Depauw on Sunday to claim the tournament championship. 

In the first round, the DePauw Tigers beat Chicago after the hosts went cold. A six-point halftime deficit turned into a 75–59 loss when the Maroons struggled from the floor, especially behind the arc, in the second half. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead, 20–8, but Chicago ripped off a 14–5 run, sparked by four three-pointers, that cut it to 25–22. DePauw responded with their own three-point barrage to stretch the lead out 38–32 at the break. DePauw hird-year Nick Felke added two of those threes in the waning minutes of the first half, and he stayed hot in the second half on his way to a game-high 27 points. 

The Maroons were never able to make a significant dent in the scoring margin, hitting 43.4 percent from the field but just 18.5 percent from three, including a brutal second half in which they went 1–13 from behind the arc. Fourth-year Cole Schmitz netted 18 points and seven rebounds to lead the Maroons, while fellow fourth-year, Jordan Baum, tallied 11 points and five assists. It was an efficient game for both teams with only 14 combined turnovers, but the Tigers’ advantage in shooting percentage (51 percent) and five additional points on the boards were too much for the Maroons to overcome. 

Without much time to linger on the DePauw loss on Saturday, the Maroons immediately shifted their focus toward the Prairie Wolves. Knowing that the 2017–18 national champions bring depth, experience, and a winning tradition, the Maroons looked to capitalize on a “next-man-up mentality” and “[readiness] to give it our all on a quick turnaround,” in the words of Baum. 

The real heartbreak of the weekend came on Sunday for the Maroons, when they narrowly lost to Nebraska Wesleyan University (NWU), 81–79. Facing off against their toughest non-conference opponent, Chicago nearly pulled off the massive upset behind a strong comeback effort and impressive bench scoring. The home team pushed the visitors all the way to the brink but couldn’t quite close the game in front of a crowd largely pulling for NWU. 

Playing against NWU’s vaunted zone defense, the Maroons came out hot with Baum and Schmitz consistently connecting from deep. Yet, for each deep triple the Maroons nailed, the Prairie Wolves were ready to answer. NWU lead 45–38 at the half with eight made three-pointers for the visitors and seven for the hosts. The NWU fourth-year tandem of Jack Hiller (24 points) and Nate Schimonitz (26 points) combined for 50 points and led the offensive charge that began the second half for the visitors. A seven-point halftime deficit had expanded to 12 with the final 10 minutes remaining, and the Prairie Wolves were threatening to put the game away. 

Hungry for a win, the Maroons responded with an 8–0 run, spearheaded by Schmitz, Baum, and third-year Dominic Laravie, and cut the lead to four. A couple of free throws and another triple from Hiller seemed to reclaim the momentum for the visitors, but Chicago once again found a scoring spurt to keep the game within reach. Second-year Ryan Martin provided clutch scoring from the bench, draining a three and a transition bucket as the Maroons scored 12 straight to make the score 70–68. Martin (seven points), along with second-year Brandon Beckman (eight points), led the scoring off the bench, which outperformed the Prairie Wolves bench 23–4. 

Chicago and NWU traded buckets but with the score tied at 74 apiece with 2:18 on the clock, the Prairie Wolves regained the lead for the final time with a pair of free throws. In desperate need for offense, the Maroons were held scoreless until Schmitz notched a layup with 23 seconds to go. On the other hand, the Prairie Wolves came up clutch from the line, hitting five free throws in the final minute of regulation to clinch the victory. Baum’s triple at the buzzer made the final score 81–79 in favor of the visitors. Schmitz once again notched 18 points, in addition to grabbing six rebounds. Baum had 17 points and eight assists. 

In a season that has failed to deliver on expectations thus far, the narrow loss to a top-10 opponent must especially sting for the Maroons, now 1–4 for the year. However, the team exhibited a great deal of talent, grit, and tenacity against the Prairie Wolves, despite the disappointing outcome, and will look to build on those positives moving forward. “We took a big step forward today as a unit; now we just need to keep getting better together,” Martin said after the game. 

Chicago next takes on Wheaton (3–1). The Thunder are coming off a Final Four run in the 2018–19 season but lost Division III Player of the Year Aston Francis to graduation. Francis averaged 34.3 points per game, including a 62-point effort in the NCAA quarterfinals, yet Chicago thoroughly defeated Wheaton last year, piling on for a 30-point win. The Maroons will hope to replicate that success and head into Thanksgiving break with a quality victory.