All Rhodes lead to victory: A fifth straight for men’s basketball
After beating Rhodes College on Wednesday night, 80-55, the No. 10 Washington University men’s basketball team is off to its hottest start since the fall of 2012, when the Bears won their first eight games and ended up winning the University Athletic Association championship.
The 25-point margin of victory was the Bears’ largest of the season and the win was their fifth straight, vaulting them to 7-1 on the season.
Defense was on display as the team held its opponent to under 60 points for the third time in four games. Rhodes made just 35.8% of their shots from the field and only four three-pointers. It was the third time in the last two weeks that the Bears had allowed a shooting percentage below 40%.
“We’re just been honing in on the areas where we needed to improve, and there was some [improvement], certainly defensively,” head coach Pat Juckem said, pointing out that defense has been a major focus for the team throughout the early season. “We’re pleased with the progress there.”
The win was not just smooth sailing for Wash. U., though. Rhodes jumped out to an early start with a quick 10-2 run within the game’s first four minutes. The Bears made only one of their first five shots and fouled the Lynx four times, missing opportunities to get out to a hot start. They soon found their footing, however, as junior Jack Nolan sank two three-pointers in a row to put Wash. U. within three points before junior Payden Webb, coming off the bench, drilled a three-pointer of his own to put the Bears up, 11-10.
“When there’s some adversity—and there is going to be in every game at some juncture—our poise and our veterans, how they handle things and come together, they just overcome it,” Juckem said. “That’s what they did tonight.”
Nolan said that much of the Bears’ offensive success in the first half stemmed from the team’s defensive prowess and stops. “We came together after the first few minutes of the game and really told each other that we need [to] start locking up defensively,” he explained. “So I think we did that. And I think that really was the turning point.”
The Lynx briefly hung with Wash. U. before the Bears began to pull away. With just under nine minutes left in the first half, sophomore Justin Hardy made a three-pointer that sparked a 21-8 run, leaving the Bears ahead by 18 points, 42-26, as the teams jogged into the locker rooms.
Scoring 11 points within the first three minutes of the second half, the Bears made sure that Rhodes never had a chance to claw its way back into the game. Nolan sent feeds into senior Hank Hunter twice in two minutes, enabling Hunter to find space beneath the rim and connect for two layups, while Nolan himself added another pair of three-pointers early in the second half.
With 13:23 to play in regulation, Wash. U. had extended its lead to 26 points, 63-37. The Bears seized the opportunity to feature some of their younger players, including freshman Nate Bloedorn, who nearly doubled his previous career point total with a career-high 12 points. “Nate had a kind of breakthrough game tonight,” Juckem said. “Our guys are talented. They’re just young and lacking experience. We’ve seen the improvement on a daily basis in practice, but being able to take it from practice to the game now, that was a big step for Nate tonight.”
Sophomore Kameron Mack saw a season-high 16 minutes and freshman Kevin Davet saw his second regular season action of the year, slamming a dunk through the net just before time expired. “We’ve got a really good group of young players who, with more playing time and more seasoning—they’re going to play a reserve game this weekend—[they’re] our future,” Juckem said.
Coming off a career-high 28 points in Sunday’s 73-70 win over Augustana College, Nolan dazzled once again, making six of his nine three-point attempts to score a game-high 18 points. “My teammates are putting me in really good positions,” he said. “We have a lot of unselfish guys on the team that share the ball really well. Great all-around team players, so I give all my credit there.”
Hunter and senior Matt Nester had 12 points each, while seniors DeVaughn Rucker and Jonathan Arenas both contributed seven rebounds.
Despite the lopsided end result, Juckem was disappointed in the Bears’ discipline. Wash. U. committed 23 fouls in the game, allowing the Lynx 25 free throws overall (the Bears only had four). Rhodes shot just 52% from the line, so the Bears’ foul trouble was not too detrimental, but Juckem still wanted improvement. “I think we’ve got to clean that up,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to be disciplined.”
The Bears continue Juckem’s sophomore campaign with the annual Wydown Showdown against Fontbonne University on Tuesday at 8 p.m.