Men’s basketball hangs on against Case Western for two-win weekend
In a Sunday afternoon battle between the University Athletic Association ceiling and basement, the Washington University men’s basketball team (7-0) rode an opportunistic defense and a career night from junior forward Andrew Sanders to an unexpectedly close victory over Case Western Reserve University (0-7) in Cleveland.
“Especially on the road, there are no easy conference games,” head coach Mark Edwards said of the 88-77 victory. “They are a good team, and they can be very dangerous, especially when their shooting gets going like it did tonight.”
Case Western shot 42.9 percent from the field on Sunday, including an especially strong 40 percent (12-30) from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Wash. U. continued to wilt from range, connecting on just four of their 19 attempts.
Those struggles were part of the reason the Spartans led by two with four minutes left in regulation.
With the Bears down by two and the Spartans surging, Sanders found Kevin Kucera on the right wing. The junior guard drilled the three-point shot and gave Wash. U. a lead they would never relinquish. Kucera finished the afternoon with 13 points and eight assists.
After that three, the defense took over. The Bears forced three turnovers in the next minute and held the previously hot shooting Spartans to just one of five from the field in the final two minutes. Wash. U. went eight for eight from the free throw line in the same time frame to ice the win and preserve the Bears’ spotless record in the University Athletic Association (UAA).
“We persevered,” Edwards said.
The Bears developed a consistent presence inside thanks to Sanders. In addition to his game-high 30 points and nine rebounds, he also connected on 8-9 attempts from the free throw line
“That’s his game,” Edwards said. “He’s very aggressive, and if a team lets him get to the basket, he’s going to score.”
Sanders’ performance helped the Bears build a 14-point margin in the paint over the course of the game.
Initially, it looked like Sunday’s game would be a blowout. The Bears started the game on an 11-2 run, while a pair of free throws from junior guard Jake Knupp pushed the lead to 16 points with 13:48 left to play in the first half.
The Spartans, however, came storming back at the end of the first half. Case Western capitalized on nine first half Wash. U. turnovers and ended the first half on a 16-4 run. The Spartans would continue to keep pace with the Bears until Kucera’s decisive three.
Senior forward Clinton Hooks and senior guard Michael Bregman also finished in double figures for the Bears, with 12 and 15 points, respectively.
The win capped off a perfect weekend for Wash. U., in which they also defeated Carnegie Mellon University 70-47 Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Against the Tartans, the Bears fell behind 17-6 through the first eight and a half minutes of play, thanks in part to a 2-9 shooting performance from the field.
“We started out kind of slow,” Edwards said. “But our defense was consistent.”
The Bears forced 19 turnovers during Friday’s matchup, which kept the scoring low, while the offense took time to click into gear.
Free throws and defensive pressure helped the Bears claw their way back into the game. After Sanders evened the score with a pair of free throws, Wash. U. had an opportunity to take the lead into halftime. Taking an inbounds pass with roughly 10 seconds to go, Kucera turned the corner around a high ball screen, and drained a three-point shot from the top of the key, as the buzzer sounded. Wash. U. took a 26-23 lead going into the break.
After the Kucera buzzer beater, the Bears continued to push their lead in the second half. Five minutes in, a layup by Kucera sparked an 11-0 run from the Bears, punctuated by a catch-and-shoot three from Hooks.
“Our offense fell into rhythm,” Edwards said. “The shot selection wasn’t really any different; we took good shots all game. They just started falling in the second half.”
The Bears held their opponents to 16-51 shooting from the field.
On the offensive end, Sanders played a central role in the Bears’ offense again, with a game-high 22 points. Junior center David Schmelter chipped in 10 points and 10 rebounds, including eight offensive boards.
The second half of UAA play begins next weekend, with Case Western and Carnegie Mellon making their own trips down to St. Louis to visit the Bears.