Men’s basketball: Showdown set for Chicago this weekend
With conference championship implications hanging in the balance, any follower of the Washington University men’s basketball team knew that this weekend’s two home contests against Brandeis University and New York University (NYU) could prove conclusive in determining a UAA champion. Yet after the completion of 80 grueling minutes of basketball in less than 48 hours, the result was that a UAA champion will not be crowned until next Saturday.
On Friday, the Brandeis Judges, needing a pair of weekend wins to remain in UAA-title contention, put a stunning end to Wash. U.’s school record 24-game, regular season, home court winning streak. Brandeis’ 68-66 victory silenced a raucous home crowd of over 2,000 and earned the visitors a share of the lead for first place in the UAA with Wash. U. and the University of Chicago, who easily defeated NYU Friday in the Windy City.
On Sunday, Wash. U., now 19-5 overall, struggled early before running away with a 61-52 win over NYU. A little more than four hours to the north, Chicago scored a comeback win over Brandeis, dashing the Judges’ championship hopes and setting up an epic title match next Saturday against Wash. U., in Chicago.
Each team is now tied atop the conference standings at 10-3 in this year’s UAA, which remains the only league in the country not to have a post-season tournament. The winner of the Bears-Maroons match-up earns the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament; the fate of the loser is left to the tournament’s selection committee.
Sophomore point guard Ross Kelley led Wash. U. in scoring with 17 points, Brandeis’ star big man Terrell Hollins was held to just two field goal attempts and both teams shot over 50 percent from three-point range. At the end, Brandeis, sparked by the efforts of star guards Andre Roberson and Joe Coppens, emerged victorious in an all-around wild evening at a packed Field House.
The game proved to be extremely close. Neither team led by more than four during the first half and the second frame was more of the same, with each squad trading baskets for much of the half. A three-pointer from Wash. U. sophomore Cameron Smith gave the Bears their biggest lead of the night, 49-42, with 12:56 remaining.
Brandeis struck back, however, as Coppens buried a pair of three-pointers over the next three minutes to cut the lead to 51-50 with just more than nine minutes to go. A three from Wash. U. senior Danny O’Boyle gave the Bears a 58-55 lead with 6:28 left, but Brandeis rattled off seven straight to take a four-point lead with just under four minutes remaining. Wash. U. responded with a pair of lay-ups over the next two minutes to tie the score at 62 with 2:07 to play. That’s when Roberson, Brandeis’ point guard, went to work.
Brandeis 68, Wash. U. 66
With the shot clock winding down, Roberson pulled up at the top of the key and buried a clutch three, silencing the crowd and sending the Brandeis bench into a frenzy with 1:40 to play.
The Bears failed to score on the ensuing possession, and an errant Coppens three found its way into the hands of Brandeis big man, Stephen Hill, forcing Wash. U. to foul with 31 ticks left on the clock. Hill hit the front end of the one-and-one, making it a two-possession game and effectively ending Wash. U.’s unprecedented home court winning streak.
Roberson buried three more free throws in the game’s final 24 seconds to put the contest out of reach. Wash. U. cut the lead to one on a Ruth’s layup with seven seconds remaining and had a slight chance to win or tie when Roberson missed the back end of another one-and-one, but the Bears had no timeouts remaining and failed to get off a shot attempt.
“They hit big shots, especially in the second half, but really the whole game. Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap to the other team. I think they hit just one more big shot than we did. It’s a tough team,” noted junior swingman Tyler Nading.
Wash. U. 61, NYU 52
On senior day, Wash. U. trailed throughout the first half and entered the locker room down 30-26. The second half, though, served as a fitting end to the careers of the team’s three seniors, O’Boyle, Moss Schermerhorn and Ruths. The Bears took control midway through the half, forcing the visiting Violets into an uncomfortable transition game and running away with a 61-52 win.
Ruths carried the team on his back all afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Nading added 17 and nine in the winning effort.
“[Ruths] was awesome. It was so cool to be with him on senior day in front of his parents. He played 37 minutes out there. He was a warrior,” said Nading.
Saturday’s championship marks the second straight year that Wash. U. and Chicago will compete for the UAA title in both teams’ regular season finale. Six weeks ago, the teams’ league opener against one another, Chicago was blown out, 76-50. Since then, however, the Maroons have been a completely different squad. Their résumé boasts of a season sweep over Brandeis and a win over Rochester, both ranked in the top 25.
“We know they’re going to play tough. We’re rivals, we love playing against them. Hopefully we can play our game at their place and come out with a win. We’re expecting to see a different [Chicago] team,” said Nading.
A large crowd is expected on the South Side next weekend, since a number of players on Wash. U.’s roster hail from the Chicago area.
“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere. We’ll have quite a few fans there. It should be fun,” said Thompson.
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