Bears record first conference wins of season
The team defeated New York University 80-76 on Friday before trouncing No. 21 Brandeis University 70-36. The Bears now stand at 8-8 (2-3 University Athletic Association) on the season.
The win over NYU also ended a six-game road losing streak for the Bears.
Sunday’s faceoff with Brandeis featured Wash. U.’s best defensive performance of the season by far, as they held the Judges to a dismal 24.1 percent shooting percentage and no points in the last 8:42 of the game.
The Bears shot 52.7 percent from the field, marking their second-best field goal percentage of the season. Senior co-captain Spencer Gay led the offensive charge with a career-high 23 points.
“I think a lot of it had to do with the energy the kids brought to the game,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “We executed offense very well, and our defense played well, so [Brandeis] couldn’t get their baskets, and we did.”
The players attributed the defensive showing to increased focus and a need to prove that the team was better than its sub-.500 record indicated.
“The difference between [Sunday’s] game and the rest of the season was we just flat out had more energy, and we wanted to win that game a lot more than Brandeis wanted to,” said senior Caleb Knepper, a co-captain. “We had so much intensity, and we shut down their offense because we were the aggressors on defense.”
When asked if the team had a particularly good defensive strategy prepared against Brandeis, Knepper explained that sound execution was the key to the sound defensive performace.
“There really wasn’t any [specific defensive scheme],” Knepper said. “We change our defense for every team we play, so [on Sunday] it was more our energy.”
After taking an 11 point lead over the Judges into halftime, numerous Wash. U. players said that the Judges appeared to lose focus and stopped putting their full effort forward in the second half. Brandeis’ missed 13 consecutive shots to end the game.
“I wouldn’t say they quit, but we sure took the competitive spirit out of them,” Edwards said.
The Bears snapped their losing streak on Friday in a close victory over NYU. Neither team led by more than six points at any moment during the game.
The Bears had a few standout performers, including Gay, who led the team with 22 points, and sophomore Ben Hoener, who posted a career-best 18 points. The team also went nine of 16 from three-point range.
“When our players can hit outside [shots], especially when [opponents] are guarding us in a zone, it really is extremely effective in opening up the inside,” junior co-captain Alex Toth said.
Over the course of six minutes in the middle of the second half, Knepper hit four three-pointers, accounting for all the Bears’ points during that stretch.
“I know that my role is to add leadership coming off the bench and show the guys what we need to do in order to win,” Knepper said. “When they give me the ball in a position to score, I know that I am supposed to do that. It’s a pretty easy job to have.”
Knepper and Toth described these two games as a turning point in the season, as the players demonstrated the upside of a team that has been consistently strong on defense all year but has not lived up to the program’s extremely successful reputation.
“This weekend, more so than any other wins we had, we really felt like we needed to come out and not just win because we’re used to winning or because we felt like we needed to, but come out [and] be who we are going to be the rest of the season,” Knepper said. “I definitely think it was a turning point for us, and we’ll hopefully be able to keep that ball rolling for the next game coming up at home this weekend.”
The Bears will look to continue their winning streak this weekend at the Wash. U. Field House, with games on Friday at 8 p.m. against Carnegie Mellon University and at noon on Sunday against Case Western Reserve University.