Men’s basketball survives upset scare, record now 8-0
With the undefeated and fourth-ranked Washington University men’s basketball team leading 19-2 in the opening minutes against a winless Trinity University team, the Bears figured to cruise to their 32nd consecutive Lopata Classic victory.
But Trinity (0-7 record) mounted a furious comeback that fell just short after a jumper from Wash. U. junior guard Luke Silverman-Lloyd broke a 75-75 tie with 31 seconds left, giving the Bears (8-0) a 79-77 win on Saturday at the Field House.
The Bears routed the University of La Verne, 83-48, in the first game of the Lopata Classic before the nail-biter against Trinity. Despite being early in it schedule, Wash. U. has already mixed five double-digit wins with two close scares.
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead to start the game against Trinity, the Red and Green held off a late Tiger push to lead 43-36 at halftime.
“The biggest thing we were missing in the first game was aggression, so this game we came out motivated and ready to go, which lead to the huge lead in the beginning of the first half,” senior forward Matt Palucki said.
To start the second half, though, Trinity forced three key turnovers to ignite a 9-0 run that gave the road team its first lead of the game at 45-43. The Bears and Tigers then grappled for the upper hand, as the lead changed six times after Trinity caught up to the Red and Green.
With the Bears trailing 75-72 with 1:25 to go, Paluki sank a three-pointer to tie the game, and then he blocked a Trinity shot attempt on the other end of the floor to give the ball back to the Bears with a chance to regain the lead. After Silverman-Lloyd sank a jumper to give the Bears the lead, the Red and Green forced a stop on defense and Palucki iced the game by scoring his 27th and 28th points of the night on free throws.
Wash. U. withstood a shooting barrage from Trinity in the second half, as the Tigers shot 5 of 7 from behind the arc and 71.4 percent from the field.
“After halftime, they made it a game,” senior guard David Fatoki said. “We knew that it was going to be a dogfight because they starting making up ground at the end of the first half.”
Trinity ran a 2-3 zone on defense, which led to a strategic adjustment by the Bears.
“It wasn’t so much the mistakes that hurt us but [Trinity’s] execution,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “We switched to a smaller lineup so that we could have more shooters and we could defend their shooters more easily.”
Even though the Bears needed heroics to pull out the victory over a winless Trinity team, Edwards commended the team’s toughness and ability to make big shots down the stretch.
“We played like a team that is 8-0,” Edwards said. “Every game is a challenge. We respected this team and even though the game was close, we came out with the win. Luke [Silverman-Lloyd] and David [Fatoki]—they all made a contribution, made threes that helped us win the game.”
The first win of the Lopata Classic was much easier to come by for the Red and Green as Wash. U. dismantled La Verne. The Bears cruised to their first victory of the weekend after going on a 22-7 run to end the first half with a commanding 39-22 lead. In the second half, the Bears outscored La Verne 44-26 to finish off the convincing win.
Silverman-Lloyd led the Bears with 15 points while Palucki tallied 14. Freshman forward Matt Highsmith grabbed a team-high seven rebounds off the bench and Fatoki dished out six assists against La Verne.
By averaging 21 points and 4.5 rebounds in the tournament, Palucki was given the Robert L. Burnes Most Valuable Player Award. Fatoki also made the all-tournament team for the Red and Green, totaling 26 points and 15 assists in the two games, along with zero turnovers, in 56 minutes of play.
The Bears conclude their nonconference schedule with three more games, including one at home against No. 9 Illinois Wesleyan University, before starting their University Athletic Association conference slate on Jan. 10 against No. 17 University of Chicago.