Men’s basketball goes 1-1, will end season with crucial home stretch

During CWRU mens basketball game against Brandeis University, graduate student guard Preston Maccoux achieved his seventh double-digit contribution this season with 7 3-pointers.
During CWRU men’s basketball game against Brandeis University, graduate student guard Preston Maccoux achieved his seventh double-digit contribution this season with 7 3-pointers.
Courtesy of Tim Phillis/CWRU Athletics

On Friday, Feb. 9 before then No. 10 Case Western Reserve University’s matchup with then No. 11 New York University, the Spartans controlled their own destiny. After CWRU ended up on the wrong side of this duel of two Division III juggernauts, they no longer have control. Following a 80-93 loss to NYU and a win over Brandeis University on Sunday by a score of 78-70, the Spartans stand at No. 2 in the UAA with a conference record of 7-4. Standing at No.1 is NYU with an 8-3 record in the UAA.

The Spartans did not fall too far after an even weekend, moving down three spots to No. 13 in this week’s Top 25. The NCAA also released the first regional rankings for the year, which will be key in determining tournament host sites and provides a forecast for how high CWRU could be seeded. In region 7, the 18-4 Spartans rank second, just behind the No. 1 team in the nation, the 22-1 John Carroll University Blue Streaks from about four miles away in University Heights, Ohio. Now that would be a fun tournament game, but fortunately it wouldn’t come until later in the bracket as both squads are ranked so highly. If the Spartans continue to play well, there should be NCAA Tournament games played at Horsburgh Gymnasium in early March.

Against NYU, CWRU wasn’t really close for more than a couple minutes of the contest. The Violets feature a number of former Division I athletes, including former Duke Blue Devil Michael Savarino, the grandson of the legendary Coach K. Savarino dropped 22 points against the Spartans, including a perfect 8-8 from the line and 4-7 from 3-point range. NYU also features a couple of former Ivy League players, and that’s what has made the 18-3 Violets such a formidable force in the DIII ranks this year. It also makes the Spartans’ 94-76 blowout victory at home over NYU earlier in the year all the more impressive.

On Friday, however, the odds were definitely not in CWRU’s favor. After trying to make a number of runs to gain an advantage throughout the first half, CWRU stood down 7 points at the break. The Spartans responded furiously after halftime, going on an 8-0 run to take a 44-43 advantage early in the second half while holding the Violets scoreless over the first 5 minutes of play. Unfortunately that was the last hurrah for CWRU. NYU went on an 11-0 run immediately after, and the Spartans didn’t come within 6 points for the remainder of the contest. Poor shooting doomed CWRU as they shot 39.1% from the field and just 35.1% from the 3-point line. NYU drubbed the Spartans by a final margin of 80-93.

CWRU shot much better just two days later when they visited Brandeis University. The noon contest started with a 15-10 lead for the visiting Spartans as both teams traded runs throughout the first half in a very competitive contest. CWRU responded to several lopsided runs by the Judges to bring the margin at the half to just one as the score stood at 33-34 in favor of Brandeis.

Early in the second, a 3-pointer by third-year forward Umar Rashid ignited a 13-4 run that put the Spartans up 50-41 with six minutes gone in the second. That run turned the tide of the contest, but the Judges never gave up, cutting it to a one-possession game midway through the second after not scoring for two and a half minutes. After both teams traded more buckets, the score stood at 57-54 for the Spartans with 7:38 left in regulation.

Responding to the Judges run, graduate student guard Anthony Mazzeo converted a 3-point play to push the lead to 6. Mazzeo made an impact all over the court on Sunday, coming close to recording the first triple-double in program history with 13 points, 9 rebounds and a career-high 8 assists. Brandeis would not go away however, as they soon tied the score at 64 with 4:13 to play. On the next possession, graduate student guard Preston Maccoux hit the sixth of his total 7 3-pointers to give the Spartans a lead that they did not relinquish for the remainder of the contest. Maccoux followed up his 19 points against NYU with a 25-point outburst off the bench against Brandeis, going 9-15 from the field and 7-11 from distance.

Maccoux and Rashid hit 2 3-pointers down the stretch to seal the deal, as the Spartans emerged victorious in Massachusetts 78-70. CWRU bounced back from poor shooting against NYU to shoot 46.6% from the field and 43.3% from beyond the arc against the Judges. The Spartans will look to continue to shoot blistering numbers from 3-point land as they now enter the most important stretch of their season so far.

As the conference does not have a tournament, it all comes down to the final three games of the regular season. CWRU will hope to win out and will be watching NYU’s games intently, hoping for them to drop at least one contest. The good news for CWRU is that their final three games are all at home. The Spartans have a perfect 8-0 record at home so far and would love to make that mark 11-0 heading into the NCAA Tournament. CWRU stands at 18-4 overall, with all four losses coming away from home. The Spartans will host Emory University this Friday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Sunday matinee at noon versus the University of Rochester. CWRU will be celebrating Throwback Weekend inside Horsburgh Gymnasium against both foes. The Spartans will be donning a pair of retro uniforms representing Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University. In my opinion, the Western Reserve Red Cat uniform is the best one on campus by far. It’s hard to beat a scary cat mascot wearing a basketball jersey.

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