February 25, 2011

Up-and-down season to end in St. Louis

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After a thrilling victory over NYU last weekend that included 39 points from third-year Matt Johnson, men's basketball will round up their inconsistent and injury-marred season tomorrow at 3 p.m. against Wash U tomorrow.

Though Rochester has already claimed the UAA title, a victory for the Maroons (9–15, 6–7 UAA) would see them tied for third in the conference, even with Wash U (13–11, 7–6).

“It’s a rivalry game. No matter what titles the teams are playing for or where they’re placed, it’s always competitive,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “We want to end on a high note and a victory at their place would definitely do that.”

A key to getting that victory will be limiting Wash U forward Spencer Gay, the UAA’s leading rebounder and fifth most prolific scorer. Gay put up 21 points and 11 rebounds at Ratner the last time the two teams met in early January. In spite of Gay’s day, the Maroons pulled off a dramatic 79–77 victory.

“He’s very talented and hard to guard,” McGrath said. “He’s more of a post player, but also athletic enough to put the ball on the floor and drive at you. Our team defense will be just as important to stopping him as the one-on-one match up.”

The Maroons, however possess the UAA’s hottest scorer, third-year point guard Matt Johnson. Last Sunday versus NYU, Johnson scored 39 points—including the game winning three-pointer—en route to an 82–80 victory. That spectacular effort set three Ratner Center records (points, three-pointers, and field goals scored) and garnered the UAA’s second-leading scorer his third Athlete of the Week award.

Johnson’s scoring will not only be crucial tomorrow, but also next year. The Maroons’ entire lineup will return. Four current starters will return as fourth-years, and third-year forward Steve Stefanou—last year’s leading scorer—should be fully recovered from an injury that kept him out half the year.

“We are very excited for next year,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve shown at times that we can be a great team, with wins over several top-25 teams including second-ranked Illinois Wesleyan and the only win in the UAA against champion Rochester. But we need to be much more consistent. If we can learn to bring the same focus and energy every night that we have for our big games, we should be in good shape.”

McGrath seemed optimistic about next year’s incoming players.

“We follow the normal admissions process, so we will find out who we get over the next couple months,” he said. “But we feel really good about our pool of potential players.”

Tomorrow it comes down to the current crop of players to end the conference season as they started it: with a win over Wash U.