Eye-popping performance ends men’s basketball’s season against Hope

| Senior Sports Editor

If you didn’t know Cody Stuive’s name before Saturday, no one would blame you. He’s a senior, he plays for Hope College and prior to his team’s second round clash with Washington University, he was a fairly nondescript small forward–the third or fourth scoring option for a pretty good basketball program.

That was until Saturday. Out of nowhere, Stuive exploded for 37 points and hit 10 of 11 attempts from three, shattering both of his career highs. The performance propelled the Flying Dutchmen to a 94-80 tournament victory on home court.

Junior Kevin Kucera works his way down the court in the Bears’ Feb. 25 game against University of Chicago. The Bears ended their season with a loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament this weekend after falling to Hope College.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Junior Kevin Kucera works his way down the court in the Bears’ Feb. 25 game against
University of Chicago. The Bears ended their season with a loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament this weekend after falling to Hope College.

“Tonight, we were competing against a team that has a legitimate chance to win a national championship,” Wash. U. head coach Mark Edwards said. “The three-point shot decides the outcome of championships when you get into the NCAA–for you or against you.”

It’s an abrupt end to what had been somewhat of a renaissance season for the Wash. U. men’s basketball team. After missing the playoffs last year, the Bears surged to the top of the national rankings and won their first conference title since 2014.

But really, nothing could’ve prepared the Bears for Saturday. Stuive’s 37 points were the third-most by a Hope player on home court and his 10 three-pointers were also a school record. Oh, and he also led the Flying Dutchmen in rebounds (seven), blocks (four) and steals (three).

In the same way a baseball pitcher tips his cap when a hitter knocks a good pitch out of the park, Stuive’s shooting earned a certain level of respect. In the post-game press conference, one reporter asked Edwards what the Bears could do to stop a player that was that hot.

“Say, ‘good luck in the next round’,” Edwards said with a smile. “Defensively, we just wanted a hand in his face and contest it—make him take a tough shot. He made them.”

Even Stuive acknowledged how unexpected his night was: “I thank God for that [game] because that’s not normal,” Stuive said.

Hope head coach Greg Mitchell humorously lamented how much the team prepared.

“We were joking with the rest of the coaches that we spent all of this time on film and preparation,” Mitchell said. “We probably should just have said, ‘Give the ball to [Stuive] and get the heck out of the way’.”

Stuive may have provided the signature performance, but the rest of his teammates also followed suit. As a group, the Flying Dutchmen shot a torrid 50 percent from the floor and 16 of 29 from range. Even though the Bears fired off 12 more shot attempts than Hope, it’s tough to compete with that kind of efficiency.

Meanwhile, Wash. U. had an uncharacteristically middling shooting day, connecting on just 40 percent of their field goal attempts (fga). Junior forward Matt Highsmith (1-7 fga) and senior guard Michael Bregman (1-9 fga) both struggled on the floor. Junior guard Kevin Kucera had a team-high 25 points. Kucera also found some success from range, draining a career-high five of eight attempts from beyond the arc. Kucera credited ball movement for his success.

“My teammates found me pretty well,” Kucera said. “It was more than just hitting the shot.”

Kucera’s prolific night kept the Bears in striking distance, but—as he put it—it’s hard to pull a team back when every bucket gets answered.

“When they gave us the opportunity [we tried] to expose it, but when [Hope] is shooting that well from three, those opportunities are pretty slim,” Kucera said.

Every single one of Kucera’s five threes were answered with at least two points on the other end.

Junior center David Schmelter chipped in 17 points and nine rebounds as well.

A day before falling to Hope, the Bears clashed with Ripon College in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Just like the Flying Dutchmen, the Red Hawks were boosted by a hot shooting performance–only this time, Wash. U. had an answer.

Senior guard Ty Sabin averaged a Division III-leading 30.2 points per game heading into the NCAA tournament and for the first 20 minutes of play Friday, it looked like he would be the one to hand the Bears an early exit. Sabin had 25 points at the half, at times slicing through the Bears interior defense with ease.

But in the second half, the Bears exploded with a 20-5 run to end the game. Taking advantage of weak transition defense, Highsmith and junior forward Andrew Sanders scored 16 and 15 points in the second half, respectively. Highsmith used a right wing jumper to tie the game at 65-all with five minutes left. While he and Sanders dominated under the basket, senior forward Clinton Hooks caught fire from range, drilling five threes in the second half. He finished with a career-high seven three pointers in the game.

While Sabin finished with a game-high 43 points, Hooks, Sanders and Highsmith lead the Bears with 25, 23 and 20 points each. In total the Bears outscored the Red Hawks by 30 in the second half to secure the 15-point victory.

Wash. U. finishes the season at 21-6, a six-win improvement from their final record a year ago. The Bears have still not advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2009.