Men’s basketball misses out on conference title and automatic tourney bid after dropping regular season finale

Miguel Campos | Staff Reporter

Coming out of halftime against the University of Chicago on Saturday, the Washington University men’s basketball team was in control of its fate. With 20 minutes remaining, the Bears had a nine-point lead over the Maroons, 43-34. They were in position to hold on for the victory, finish the season with sole possession of the University Athletic Association title and receive an automatic trip to the NCAA playoffs.

But the Red and Green faltered. The Maroons stormed back in the second half, stunning Wash. U. and stealing the game from the Bears’ grasp, 77-70.

With the loss, Wash. U. finishes the season 20-5 and 11-3 in the conference. After beating the University of Rochester on Saturday, the Emory University team also ended the regular season 11-3, so the Bears and Eagles are tied for first in the UAA. However, since Emory beat Wash. U. twice this year, the Eagles have the tiebreaker. Whereas they will receive the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Bears will have to wait until this morning’s selection show to discover their position in the playoffs.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Junior Jack Nolan searches for an open pass against Coe College, Nov. 16. Despite Nolan’s 14 points against the University of Chicago on Saturday, the Bears fell to the Maroons, 77-70.

“It’s disappointing, certainly, that we didn’t close it out and play to our standards, but we own it, we own our mistakes, our failures, and we’re going to get back to work and get better this week,” head coach Pat Juckem said.

Following the opening tipoff, senior guard Jonathan Arenas showed some hustle on the offensive glass to get the Bears on the board for the first score of the game. From that point on, both teams traded fairly even blows, as a total of eight lead changes occurred in those first seven and a half minutes of gameplay.

It was not until junior guard Payden Webb and sophomore forward Kameron Mack sank back-to-back threes that the Bears took a commanding lead. They went up by nine points with 4:37 left in the first. Though Chicago chipped away periodically, Wash. U. kept in control and maintained the lead as the teams turned in for the lockers.

In the first half, junior guard Jack Nolan and Chicago junior forward Brennan McDaniel lead the game with 11 and 12 points, respectively. Nolan would end his afternoon with 14 points and McDaniel would have a game high of 23, going 5-5 from the three-point line.

After a quick lay-in from Wash. U. senior forward DeVaughn Rucker to start the second half, the Maroons began to implement their second half gameplan: the onslaught of threes.

“[Chicago] made some adjustments at halftime and came out with renewed vigor,” Juckem said. “Every time we made a mistake, they capitalized.”

Starting with McDaniel’s fifth three-bomb of the game, the home team went on a swift 8-0 run in the span of just over a minute of game clock, tying it all up at 47 with over 15 minutes remaining in regulation.

Despite an impressive ‘and-one’ play by Rucker on the ensuing play to once again give Wash. U. a slight separation from the increasingly retaliatory home team, a trio of Chicago three-point daggers highlighted a 21-12 run to give them a six-point lead, 68-62, with just over six minutes to play. Knowing that their season was potentially on the line, Wash. U. tried to make a late-game comeback, but Chicago simply would not let up, holding on for the eight-point victory.

There was a clear difference in both offenses between the first and second half. In the first half, Wash. U. shot an eye-opening 58.6% from the field, while the Maroons shot a relatively poor 37.9% from the field. The second half was the complete opposite, as the Bears shot 33.3% from the field compared to the improved 46.7% from Chicago.

We just didn’t make the plays to close out the game, and Chicago did,” senior guard Matt Nester said. “In the second half, we didn’t have the sense of urgency required to put them away.”

The Bears’ fate now lies with the NCAA selection committee, which will announce the playoff bracket this morning at 11:30 a.m. There will be a watch party for the announcement in the Danforth University Center’s Fun Room.

“No matter where we get sent, who we play, whether we’re home or on the road, you’re excited. I mean, you’re absolutely thrilled. It’s March Madness, it’s the best time of year,” Juckem said when asked about the prospect of making the team’s 25th playoff appearance. “We have not reached our peak, and that’s really going to be our focus this week.”

The players agreed. “We believe we can win a national championship, and that is the focus we will bring each and everyday,” Nester said. “From now on, it is survive and advance. Each possession is important.”

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