Bears topple Chicago in UAA opener
The WU men started the new year off with a conference win, defeating rival University of Chicago, 65-62, and avenging last year’s end-of-season loss to the Maroons.
“It felt nice,” said Matt Tabash. “It’s good to get any win in conference, but knowing they’re the top makes it better.”
While a preseason University Athletic Association coach’s poll picked Chicago to win the conference, the Maroons have struggled so far in the season with a 5-7 record. The Bears on the other hand, are ranked tenth in the nation with an 11-1 record coming into conference play.
WU also had the memory of last season’s heartbreaker at Chicago, but the team claims that while it was nice to beat Chicago, revenge was not their only motivation.
“Once game time started, the only thing that mattered was who was on top at the end,” said Jeffries, who claims revenge ceased to be a factor once the game began.
“It was a tough game and a hard fought game,” said WU head coach Mark Edwards. “We just had the right score at the end.”
The “right score” was not easily earned, as a defensive battle ensued. The Bears were off to a slow start at the beginning of the game and trailed until five minutes into the first half, when the Bears caught up with Chicago, tying the game at 13 with a jumper by Jeffries.
The lead went back and forth between the teams as the score remained close throughout the first half. Chicago pulled ahead towards the end of the half, but a driving layup by junior Dustin Tylka brought the Bears within one as they headed to the locker room.
In order to come out strong for the second half, WU knew the key would be controlling All-American and Division III Preseason Player of the Year, Derek Reich. Edwards considers Reich “the best player [WU] will face all season.” Reich leads his team with 21.3 points per game along with 9.1 rebounds. He had 13 points in the first half and finished the game with 29 and 11 rebounds. For the second half, the WU defense focused on Reich in order to attempt to shut him down.
“We came out a little slow. In the second half we made an adjustment and made it harder on him,” said Tabash. “He just got tired.”
“We tried to help on him as much as we could, but he still scored over two or three guys,” said Edwards. “We slowed him down, but we didn’t stop him.”
The effort to contain Reich paid off and the hard-working WU defense kept the score close, with the teams once again passing the lead back and forth. The game took a turn midway through the second half when WU pulled ahead with a 10-2 run, led by sophomore guard Barry Bryant. Bryant scored all six of his points during the run, andJeffries added four from the inside. Chicago stayed in the game but did not regain the lead.
While the teams were evenly matched, turnovers and rebounds won the victory for the Bears. WU scored 17 points off of Chicago’s 15 turnovers, whereas the Bears only gave up the ball nine times. The big men of WU also edged out Chicago in rebounds with junior center Jarriot Rook grabbing 11 of WU’s 35 rebounds along with nine points.
“I have to give it up to Rook for his rebounding, which was a big key in this game,” said Jeffries.
“The teams were pretty equal, except we had fewer turnovers and more rebounds and a few more free throws,” said Edwards. “The little details are what made the difference.”
Chicago pulled within three in the final seconds of the game, but a buzzer beater by forward Jon Poyer failed to connect. WU came out on top, led by Jeffries, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. Tylka added 14 points, and Tabash had seven points and five assists.
This gives WU a 1-0 start in UAA play as they take a road trip this weekend to face Emory and Case Western Reserve. While neither of these teams has the reputation of Chicago, the Bears expect both games to be challenging.
“None of those games will be pushovers,” said Jeffries.
“We’re going to have to come out and play together, but if we do, we’ll be tough to beat,” said Tabash. “It’s important that we got off to a good start. We proved we’re the team to beat. They’re going to be gunning for us, but that’s what we want. We can handle the challenge.”
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