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February 15, 2011

Overtime loss at Emory eliminates men's basketball from UAA contention

Men's basketball finished a weekend trip along the East Coast with two conference losses. The Maroons (8–14, 5–6 UAA) lost to Rochester on Friday 65–53 and fell to Emory in an overtime thriller on Sunday 91–87. The South Siders remain tied for third in the UAA standings while Rochester and Emory secured the top two spots respectively.

Going into Friday, Chicago hoped to mirror its victory one month earlier, when the Maroons defeated Rochester at home during Beach Night with a score of 79–73. However, Chicago has struggled on the road. Prior to the game on Friday, the Maroons lost three of four road conference games. Ending the Maroons’ road woes was difficult, as they faced an aggressive Rochester team.

“I knew they were going to be very hard to beat,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “They run their stuff very well.”

“They’re pretty tough around the basket,” third-year forward Steve Stefanou added.

The Maroons looked toward their specialty of shooting to guide them through the game. Unfortunately, Chicago shot only 35.7 percent from the field in the first half and 30.8 percent behind the arc. Third-year guard Matt Johnson, who has averaged the most points per game this season for the Maroons, was only allowed two points in the first half.

“Rochester had some really good defenders on me, and I just couldn’t get my shots to fall,” Johnson said. “I picked up two fouls in the first half as well, which took me out of my rhythm some, too.”

Despite the unfortunate shooting performance by the Maroons, the men controlled the rebounding game throughout the first half. Chicago had an impressive 22 rebounds in the first half, but still trailed at halftime 29–25.

“We felt like the way we were playing defensively in the first half, we should’ve been up 8 or 10 points at halftime. But we had a stretch where we turned the ball over several times in a row and gave Rochester some easy baskets, and it was a close game because of that. When we had leads, we were never able to pull away,” Johnson said.

The Maroons hoped to turn the game around in the second half, but missed several key opportunities to take control of the game. With 10 minutes remaining, Chicago took a two-point lead at 49–47, but a three-pointer made by Chris Dende gave Rochester the lead for good. Stefanou and second-year forward Matt MacKenzie led the team, scoring 12 points.

Chicago tried to maintain its composure going into Sunday. In spite of the bleak chances of winning the UAA and receiving a bid for the NCAA Division III tournament, the men knew they would prove themselves as one of the best teams in the UAA if they defeated Emory. However, the Maroons did not want to replicate the performance they had against Emory just one month earlier, where Chicago fell 78–70. McGrath came in with a new outlook toward the game.

“We had a different plan defensively on Sunday than we did the last time we played Emory,” he said.

Johnson learned what Chicago needed to do to secure a victory this time around.

“Emory tries to make you play at their fast pace, which can cause teams to commit turnovers or take quick shots,” he said. “We wanted to play our game, run our offense, and execute well.”

The Maroons did not play as well as McGrath and Johnson hoped for in the first half. Poor shooting and subpar rebounding led to a 16-point deficit in the first half. Going into halftime, McGrath was unsure of the men’s determination.

“I told them that we have to decide what type of team we are going to be: one that wins or one that loses,” he said.

Chicago took McGrath’s words to heart. The Maroons began playing more aggressively in order to draw contact and earn trips to the line.

“I wasn’t having a very good shooting day, so in the second half I focused on being strong with the ball and trying to draw fouls by being aggressive,” Johnson said. “Free throws were also a way to slow down Emory’s offense…[giving] us a chance to get back and set up our defense.”

Free throws determined the course of the rest of the game. The Maroons shot a whopping 36–42 from the line. With 1:02 remaining in the game, third-year guard Chase Davis hit a crucial jumper to tie the game at 78–78. A strong defensive stand gave the Maroons the last opportunity with the ball, but third-year guard Tommy Sotos’s three-point shot fell short.

Overtime was just as close as the last few minutes of regular play. Emory had a three-point lead with nine seconds remaining. Chicago fed the ball to three-point specialist Matt Johnson, who missed the potential game-tying bomb.

“The shot at the end of overtime felt good when it left my hands,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t drop.”

The Maroons will play Brandeis at the Ratner Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and look to give the crowd something to talk about in their final home games of the season.

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