Inconsistent men’s basketball splits games for third weekend in a row in UAA play
It’s been three weeks, three wins and three losses for the Washington University men’s basketball team, which once again struggled to find consistency on its way to splitting its third consecutive weekend series in University Athletic Association play.
On Friday, the Bears started their four-game road trip with a loss to Carnegie Mellon University, 72-59, only to rebound against Case Western Reserve University two days later with a season-high point total in a 95-75 victory. These results flipped the script from last weekend’s meetings between these teams, when the Bears dismantled Carnegie Mellon by 20 points before falling to Case Western by 11 points at home.
After their loss to Spartans last weekend, the Red and Green needed a win on the road against a struggling Tartans team (10-8 record) that had lost five straight games in order to regain footing in a highly contested UAA conference. Instead, the Bears struggled offensively all night, shooting 38.2 percent from the field while allowing two Carnegie Mellon players to score 20-plus points. Together with their loss last Sunday against Case Western, the Bears suffered their first losing streak since 2011.
The game was a defensive slog for the first 20 minutes, with neither team separating itself by more than a couple baskets. Carnegie was able to out rebound the Bears 24-18 on its way to a low-scoring 30-22 lead going into the locker room.
The second half was a different story as the game began to pick up offensively. A rash of three-point shooting and strong play in the paint allowed Carnegie to go on a 16-3 run to obtain a commanding 46-25 lead. The Bears also shot well in the second half, but the Red and Green could not erase a 20-point deficit with only 14 minutes remaining in the game.
Statistically, Wash. U. and Carnegie Mellon performed nearly identically across the board, but the Tartans took advantage of their opportunities at the free-throw line. Carnegie Mellon went 18 of 19 from the charity stripe, compared to just 12 of 21 for the Red and Green.
The Bears’ offensive struggles on Friday are not that unusual for Tartans’ opponents as Carnegie Mellon came into the game leading the UAA in field-goal percentage defense by holding teams to a 39.4-percent clip.
“Basketball is a funny sport; you have to have a lot of confidence in what you’re doing…Whenever that confidence wavers, your shooting percentage drops off, and I just think that’s what we’re going through,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “We’re playing against teams that are familiar with us, teams that are hungry—there’s a conference at stake and I think that we’re just coping with it. It’s not fun, but we’ll handle it.”
However, Sunday’s game was an offensive spectacle as the Red and Green shot 54.8 percent from the field, including 8 of 16 from beyond the arc. After Case Western led for all 40 minutes of last week’s game, the two teams traded leads seven times in the first eight minutes. Both teams enjoyed hot shooting throughout the half, but Wash. U. had the slight edge, leading 46-38 at halftime.
In the second half, Bears took advantage of a weakening Spartans’ perimeter defense to take control. Junior guard Luke Silverman-Lloyd started the run by catching fire from behind the arc to hit a trio of three-pointers early in the half. Wash. U. also controlled the boards with a 40-26 rebounding advantage, 15 of which were offensive boards that led to 24 second-chance points.
By the final buzzer, all five starters had scored in double figures, a feat the Bears had not accomplished since an 88-78 win against Coe College back on Dec. 20. Among them, junior forward Mitch Styczynski lead the team with 20 points while senior forward Nick Burt added 19 points.
“I think we really needed that. All five guys scored and all five guys fed off each other,” Edwards said. “They got them to believe in the execution of what they were doing and that they could make it work. That’s what really makes it difficult for the other team because we have five guys who are capable of scoring.”
With conference positioning still up for grabs, the Bears will look to carry Sunday’s hot shooting performance into next weekend when they travel to face No. 14 Emory University and the University of Rochester. The Eagles and the Yellowjackets are currently part of a five-team tie along with Wash. U., Case Western and New York University for second place in the UAA rankings behind the University of Chicago.