Men’s basketball rallies on Senior Day to stay undefeated in conference play

| Sports Editor

Stephen Huber

Senior Alan Aboona drives past a Carnegie Mellon University defender on Sunday afternoon. Aboona scored the Bears' last five points as the Washington University men's basketball team rallied to defeat the Tartans 83-79.

By scoring the final 12 points of the game, the Washington University men’s basketball team earned a dramatic come-from-behind victory on Senior Day to preserve its chance at finishing with an undefeated conference record for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

The No. 3 Bears defeated Case Western Reserve University 87-61 on Friday and rallied for an 83-79 victory over Carnegie Mellon University on Sunday to improve to 22-2 overall and 13-0 in the University Athletic Association.

Senior guards Tim Cooney and Alan Aboona willed the Bears to victory down the stretch on Senior Day. Aboona scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, including the final five points of the game, while Cooney scored a team-high 26 points on five 3-pointers.

After trailing 39-33 at halftime, the resilient Bears would not go away. Although Carnegie extended its lead to 51-41, the Red and Green went on a 10-0 run to tie the score, but the Tartans fought back and led 79-71 with 2:42 remaining in the game. Nonetheless, the Bears came back and rattled off the next seven points to only trail 79-78 with 1:34 to go. After a Carnegie offensive foul, Aboona drove to the basket and made a contested layup while being fouled.

“I was trying to play the mismatch and maybe get a foul, being aggressive, and to be honest threw it up and it hit the top of the backboard and somehow spun in. So it was a little lucky, but sometimes you need some luck to grind out some wins,” Aboona said.

While Aboona missed the free throw, junior forward Nick Burt, who earned his first career double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, pulled down the key offensive rebound. Aboona was fouled and this time converted two free throws to give the Bears an 82-79 lead with 30 seconds left. The Bears would get a defensive stop and win 83-79.

The Bears’ comeback was even more impressive given their starters’ foul trouble. Wash. U.’s 10-2 lead turned into a 22-17 deficit when senior forward Chris Klimek went to the bench with his second foul, and later in the half, Aboona and junior forward Matt Palucki also had to go to the bench because of foul trouble. In the second half, both Klimek and Aboona picked up their fourth fouls with more than 10 minutes remaining, but the sometimes short bench kept the Bears in the game.

According to Aboona, even though the Bears have won 17 games in a row, this specific victory is important to build their confidence.

“These are the kind of games that are going to tune us up for playoffs coming up, so it’s a big confidence boost for us that we know we can come back and play a game like this,” Aboona said.

On Friday, the Bears jumped out to a 10-2 lead with Burt scoring four of his career-high 15 points during the stretch. Junior guard David Fatoki, who tallied eight points off the bench, gave the Bears a 29-16 lead with a layup with 7:55 remaining in the half, but Case battled back to make it 33-27. The Red and Green then responded with a 12-4 stretch to take a commanding 45-31 lead into halftime.

Burt attributed his increased offensive output to increased shot opportunities as Case Western tried to minimize other threats.

“Case [Western] scouted us, and they know that we have a lot of offensive threats…so I think they were trying to take them away and there was a lot of space for me to operate; it was just up to me to hit some shots,” Burt said.

In the opening minutes of the second half, the Bears used an 8-0 run to stake a 53-31 lead before cruising to an 87-61 victory.

The Bears’ defense held Case Western’s shooting attack in check as they limited the Spartans to 10-38 shooting on 3-pointers and a 31.9 field-goal percentage.

Cooney posted his fifth career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Klimek added 14 points and nine rebounds. The Bears were consistent offensively, shooting 18-34 in both halves.

“The other seniors I’ve had would love to be in their position right now, and I think part of the legacy and tradition of the program is that the seniors have something they are playing for,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “They’re going into the end of the season, and they are still chasing their dream.”

The next step of that continuing dream could come next Saturday at the University of Chicago as this year’s Bears could become only the second team in program history to complete their UAA slate without a loss. Wash. U. clinched the conference title a week ago, already ensuring it an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

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