Men’s hoops perfect in conference play with two close victories
With the opportunity to remain atop the University Athletic Association, the No. 7 Washington University men’s basketball team fulfilled its goal as it gutted out wins at the University of Rochester and Emory University to improve its conference record to 7-0.
With the second-place UAA team three games back at 4-3, Wash. U. is in good position halfway through the conference season to clinch its third straight UAA title and fifth in six seasons.
In winning at Rochester for the first time since 2010, the Bears trailed by 12 points in the first half before going on a 5-0 surge highlighted by a dunk from junior forward Nick Burt. According to senior guard Tim Cooney, that dunk may have been the turning point of the game.
“I think the turning point was toward the end of the first half. We had a bunch of hustle points, and Nick Burt had a dunk,” Cooney said. “We had some big defensive stops and kind of woke up after being asleep at the beginning of the game.”
The Bears still trailed by seven late, but Wash. U. made its last four field goals in the game, including a three-point play from senior forward Chris Klimek and a jumper from Cooney to give the Bears the lead with 50 seconds remaining.
Junior guard David Fatoki came through in the clutch for the Red and Green despite battling the flu. After missing a one-and-one free throw with less than 30 seconds left and a 76-75 lead, Fatoki forced a steal and then made two free throws to cap a 12-2 run that sealed a 78-75 win.
“He was feeling sick the whole week. He had some kind of virus, and for him to come at the end, get the steal and then make two free throws to clinch the game was huge,” junior forward Matt Palucki said.
All five starters for the Bears scored in double figures. Klimek recorded a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, Burt finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, and Palucki added 16 points with four three-pointers. Wash. U. maintained a 39-29 rebounding advantage that included 18 offensive rebounds, which led to a 19-4 advantage in second-chance points. For Cooney, winning at Rochester was no easy feat, and the come-from-behind victory sparked even more confidence in a team with a double-digit win streak.
“No one on our team had won at Rochester before. It’s a real tough place to play, and it just shows a lot of mental toughness for our whole team being able to focus and finish the game strong and pull out a much-needed win. It gave us a lot of confidence going forward knowing that we can do that,” Cooney said. “Hopefully we don’t dig ourselves in as deep of a hole in future games, but it’s good to know that we continued to control the game and picked up the win when we really needed it.”
On Sunday, the Bears preserved the momentum and pulled out a 70-66 win at Emory, extending their winning streak to 11 games and improving their overall record to 16-2. The Red and Green held a 35-28 lead at halftime and never relinquished it in the second half. While the Bears committed a season-high 20 turnovers only one game after losing the ball just seven times against Rochester, they forced Emory into 6-of-29 shooting from behind the arc and just 33.3-percent shooting overall. Klimek sustained his exceptional stretch of play with 17 points and nine rebounds, and with senior guard Alan Aboona in foul trouble, Fatoki continued his strong weekend by scoring a career-high 11 points, all in the second half, off the bench.
Head coach Mark Edwards picked up his 599th career win against Emory. Win No. 600 may come at home next weekend when the Bears play Rochester and Emory again.