SPORTS

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February 22, 2011

Johnson’s 39 lifts Maroons over NYU

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36 points from Matt Johnson weren’t enough to beat NYU at home on Sunday—it took 39. Down by two with 15 seconds left, before a frenetic crowd, Johnson drained a silky smooth three-pointer to defeat the Violets in Chicago’s final home game of the season, erasing a three-game losing streak in the process.

The rebound victory came after the South Siders fell to Brandeis 71–63 on Friday. The Maroons (6–7, 9–15 UAA) fell to fourth place in the UAA and will finish their season against Wash U next Saturday.

Despite being out of UAA contention, Chicago knew that the last home games of the season were just as important as any other games they had previously played. The players wanted to give the fans something to talk about, given how enthusiastic and supportive the crowd has been all season.

“Our fans have been great to play for this year,” third-year guard Tommy Sotos said. “It’s always fun to play in front of the home crowd.”

After falling to Brandeis earlier in the season 59–53, Chicago once again had difficulty.

“Brandeis is a weird team to play,” Sotos said. “They always play a different style, but we knew we had to get stops late in the shot clock.”

The Maroons were unable to do that. Chicago had only 17 rebounds in the first half, allowing Brandeis to capitalize on second chance opportunities. The Judges shot 43.3 percent from the field in the first half compared to Chicago’s 31.8 percent. Going into halftime, the Maroons trailed Brandeis 33–26.

“We played tough, but I didn’t think we played well,” Sotos said.

The second half provided more of the same: Brandeis held onto a double-digit lead through the first 12 minutes of the half. However, just as the Maroons were losing all hope, third-year guard Matt Johnson, in preparation for his showstopping performance on Sunday, scored 10 points in five minutes, lowering the deficit to three points with 3:30 left on the clock. Unfortunately, it came too little too late, as Brandeis was able to pull away, winning 71–63.

While the loss extended the Maroons’ losing streak to three games, the men knew they had to retain their focus to win the last home game against NYU on Sunday.

“We had to just move on and take what’s next,” Sotos said. “We had to quickly get [the loss] out of our minds.”

Spectators never would have guessed that Chicago was coming off a three-game losing streak going into Sunday’s game; the Maroons gave their all in their home finale. Unfortunately for the Maroons, NYU was a force to be reckoned with. In spite of Chicago’s impressive 51.9 percent shooting from the field in the first half, NYU controlled the shooting game, hitting 57.1 percent of their shots from the field and an astounding 63.6 percent of their shots from behind the arc. Going into halftime, the Maroons trailed 43–40.

However, with the help of the surprisingly large and emphatic Sunday crowd, the Maroons were able to maintain their composure and stop NYU at crucial points in the game. A swing of ups and downs brought the Maroons within one point just two minutes into the half but 10 points down with 7:15 left in the game.

Yet, clutch three-point shooting by third-year guard Michael Sustarsic brought the Maroons within four. It was then that the game became the Matt Johnson spectacular. With 1:13 left in the game, Johnson sank a three-pointer to cut the Maroon deficit to one point. The Maroons were then able to regain possession, not allowing NYU to score. With 26 seconds left in the game, the Maroons called a timeout to discuss their last possession at home this season. With 36 points already, everyone knew where the ball was going.

Sotos got the read he wanted, finding Johnson just inside the arc. Johnson took a step back and sank the three-pointer, causing the Maroons to go up 82–80 with only 15 seconds remaining.

But the game was not over. A questionable foul call on third-year forward Steve Stefanou sent NYU star Andy Stein to the line for two free throws. He missed the first and had to intentionally miss the second.

Stefanou redeemed himself by blocking a last second shot by NYU as the Maroons won 82–80. Johnson led the team with a behemoth 39 points, besting the record of 33 points in a game at the Ratner Center and being only five points shy of the most points in a game by any Maroon.

“I had no idea how many points I had until I heard the PA announcer say that I had tied the Ratner record for points in a game,” Johnson said. “It all felt a lot sweeter when we were able to close it out and win a great game.”

“We persevered pretty well,” McGrath added.

The Maroons end their season in St. Louis, playing Wash U on Saturday at 3 p.m.

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