In a battle for the second best record in the UAA, the Maroons faced off against the Bears of Wash U in what was a tense season finale with a possible playoff spot on the line.
Chicago (16–9, 8–6 UAA) fell to No. 17 Wash U (20–5, 9–5) by a final score of 84–67. With this loss, the Maroons finished tied in the UAA for third with NYU (17–8, 8–6) and were subsequently eliminated from playoff contention when the at large bids for the tournament were announced yesterday at 11:30 a.m. No. 15 Emory (20–5, 10–4) and Wash U will each be returning to the tournament for the second straight year.
Out of the 43 conferences in Division III, the UAA is the only conference that does not hold a tournament among its members for its guaranteed automatic qualifying bid and instead awards this to the holder of the best conference record at season’s end. Emory secured its top spot in the conference with an 88–69 win over Rochester (10–15, 6–8) on Saturday while Wash U received one of the remaining 19 at-large bids from the selection committee yesterday.
Saturday’s season finale showed a valiant effort on Chicago’s part. The Maroons fought tooth and nail through the first half as both teams exchanged the lead six times before the Bears pulled ahead in the remaining six and a half minutes, accumulating a 43–30 halftime lead.
“The most challenging part of facing this Wash U team was guarding all the actions of their offense. They have a great system that complements their personnel,” said first-year guard Jake Fenlon, who came off the bench to go four for six behind the arc in just nine minutes. “They also have counters to all of their plays, making their offense very difficult to defend.”
On offense, the Bears dominated every category except for offensive rebounds, where Chicago led 18–10. The Maroon’s aggressive offensive presence accounted for them only trailing by one total rebound to the home team by the game’s conclusion.
“The team knew that if we won at Wash and swept them for the year, we would be hard to deny from the tournament,” explained third-year forward Alex Voss, acknowledging Chicago’s 63–43 victory against the Bears in early January. “We knew it was going to be a dog fight the whole game so the mentality was we needed to go in there and out-tough them, be relentless [in] rebound[ing] and then knock in a few shots.”
Voss led the team with 13 points and nine rebounds, just one rebound shy of a double-double.
“They sustained their energy and focus longer than we did, and we put ourselves in a hole. We knew we had the talent to come back and make a run, but Wash was extremely confident at this point and weren’t missing a bunch of shots,” said first-year forward Collin Barthel on the first half’s last six and a half minutes, which put the Bears up by 13.
Chicago never let up and played closer to the vest in the second half, though, only conceding an additional four points to the lead.
“We definitely learned we can compete with anyone in the country but if we don’t come to play anyone can beat us,” Voss said on the overall experience this season.
With a relatively young team and all of Saturday’s starters coming back next year, this squad should be able to seal the deal next year as its underclassmen become seasoned veterans. The hardest part will be the long wait until next November.