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Led by third-year Matt Johnson’s game-high 25 points, the men’s basketball team began its UAA schedule with a 79–77 come-from-behind victory against Washington University on Saturday, improving to 4–8 for the season. Displaying tenacity and drive, the team rebounded from a 39–34 halftime deficit.
“[During halftime] we made a couple adjustments defensively, but I just told the team ‘Look, we played badly.’ We had a couple silly plays,” said head coach Mike McGrath, referring to the errors that caused the team to fall behind in the first half.
Downplaying the technical changes the team made during the second half, he instead emphasized their renewed intensity.
“The change in focus made a big deal,” he continued, citing the team’s mental adjustments as the driving force behind their eventual comeback and win.
The hard-fought victory marks the beginning of the team’s UAA schedule. The Maroons play 13 more games against conference competition.
The team, playing without fourth-year forward Paul Riskus and third-year all-league forward Steve Stefanou due to injury, has had its share of adversity thus far this season, reflected by their underwhelming record. The win against Washington University, though, gives the team reason to be confident about its chances in the conference and may be a turning point in the season.
“Starting [conference play] with a win, you feel better about things,” said McGrath. “We’ve tried to find our identity...to settle into what we’re all about. We’ve had to adapt and follow a natural evolution from our plan coming in.”
Third-year forward Tom Williams, who led the team with 10 rebounds, echoed McGrath’s optimism, stating, “We have come together well to overcome some injuries and personnel issues.”
Second-year forward Matt MacKenzie, who scored 15 points, added that the game was a learning experience for the team.
“We have discovered that we can play with anyone, but also lose to anyone. It’s not good enough just to show up,” he said. “We have to play with the energy we did this weekend against Wash U if we want to make a run in the conference.”
The start of conference play means the remaining games will be against more familiar conference opponents.
When asked how the team prepared for its game against Wash U, Williams explained, “Because we see them twice a year, we are familiar with the sets they run, so we spent most of the week preparing to stop their offensive plays.”
McGrath added, “Any time you’re playing a rival, your intensity goes up, and your focus increases.”
The UAA race remains wide open and the team hopes to contend for the conference title. Saturday’s win bodes well for the rest of what has so far been a rocky season.
“I’d say I’m very optimistic about the team’s chances in the conference,” McGrath concluded.