Undefeated weekend lifts men’s basketball to 20-4, No. 5 in DIII ranking

In CWRU mens basketball game against the University of Rochester, third-year forward Umar Rashid contributed 8 points, 1 assist and 7 rebounds, allowing the Spartan team to win 99-70.
In CWRU men’s basketball game against the University of Rochester, third-year forward Umar Rashid contributed 8 points, 1 assist and 7 rebounds, allowing the Spartan team to win 99-70.
Courtesy of CWRU Athletics

A nail-biter and a blowout gave the Case Western Reserve University men’s basketball team two wins at home over their “Throwback Weekend,” while New York University went 1-1 over the same stretch, putting CWRU back in the driver’s seat in the UAA. If the Spartans emerge victorious over long-time rival Carnegie Mellon University on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. at home, they will clinch at least a share of their second-straight UAA Championship.

Other good news resulting from the weekend included a fifth UAA Athlete of the Week for graduate student guard Anthony Mazzeo, who earlier in the week earned a spot on the Top-50 Bevo Francis Watch List—the Bevo Francis Award is presented annually to the player who has had the finest overall season within Small College Basketball. Mazzeo had an outstanding performance over the weekend, recovering from a minor hand injury in the Brandeis University game to average 27 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds between both games. He also shot 47.7% from the floor (21-44), 40.0% from 3-point range (6-15) and 66.7% from the free throw line (6-9). Mazzeo matched his season high with a 30-point effort in an 86-85 win over Emory University on Friday, Feb. 16, shooting 12-of-24 from the floor and making 5-of-9 on 3-point attempts while collecting 5 rebounds and 4 assists. In Sunday’s 99-70 win over the University of Rochester, Mazzeo scored 24 points on a 9-of-20 shooting effort overall and dished out a career-high 9 assists with 3 rebounds. The Spartans put together two impressive performances behind the play of Mazzeo, once again proving themselves as one of the best teams in the nation—for their efforts, CWRU earned a No. 5 spot in the NCAA’s first national ranking for NCAA Division III, likely indicating that they would be hosting regional first and second round matchups at Horsburgh Gymnasium in less than two weeks.

The weekend started with a Friday night matchup against Emory, whom the Spartans had previously bested in January at Emory when the Eagles were ranked No. 22. Emory has had a rough stretch since then but still presented a formidable challenge. CWRU donned the red uniforms of the Western Reserve University Red Cats in the first of their two throwback games. Mazzeo and third-year forward Umar Rashid gave the squad a lift late in the first half in what had been a razor-thin game. Mazzeo hit a jumper as the clock winded down to give CWRU a 47-39 lead heading into the locker room.

The Spartans emerged from the locker room inspired, pushing their lead to 11 with around 16 minutes left in the contest. But in a foreshadowing of what was to come, Emory simply would not give up without a fight. The Eagles trimmed the lead to 4 with around 13 minutes left in the game. Opposing runs culminated in a 4:28 scoreless stretch for CWRU that Emory used to climb all the way to a 2 point lead over the Spartans, 84-82, with 1:42 left. Graduate student forward Colin Kahl broke the streak with just over a minute left after a layup that tied the game at 84. Emory was fouled with 19 seconds left and made one to push the Eagles ahead by 1, 85-84.

Coach Todd McGuinness quickly drew up a play on the ensuing CWRU timeout, which the Spartans executed flawlessly. After a series of movements and screens, Mazzeo drove down the right lane and faked a layup to draw Kahl’s defender off of him, giving Mazzeo the opportunity to dish it to him for a layup that made the score 86-85 with 8.3 seconds left.

The bench and fans celebrated, but the game was not yet finished. Emory called a timeout and fought valiantly for the final 8.3 seconds. Emory guard/forward Jair Knight (who finished the game with 29 points) drove down the lane and turned around for a heavily contested jumper that bounced off the rim into the hands of an Emory player whose point-blank putback attempt was just short. CWRU narrowly escaped the contest with the 86-85 win. In addition to the game-winning layup, Kahl finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds and a season-high 5 assists.

Heading into the Sunday contest against Rochester, CWRU expected a slugfest despite Rochester being on the lower end of the UAA standings because of the way the Spartans’ game at Rochester had gone: a 75-73 win by CWRU in one of their lowest scoring outputs of the season. This contest went the exact opposite of that.

Donning the brown uniforms of the Case Institute of Technology Rough Riders, the team had a suboptimal start to the matchup, falling behind the Yellowjackets early 16-12. Perhaps realizing that they were facing an inferior opponent and knowing that a loss would be dismal to their UAA title chances, the Rough Riders responded with an 11-0 run fueled by 7 points from graduate student guard Preston Maccoux, who came off the bench to score 21 points total in the contest, including 4 3-pointers.

The Yellowjackets stung CWRU with a stretch that saw the Spartans’ lead disappear as Rochester tied the game at 32 with 4:33 left in the half. Both teams traded baskets for the final four minutes of the half, but the Spartans came out ahead, taking a 46-40 lead at the half despite the Yellowjackets scoring the final 3 points of the period.

The Yellowjackets flew back to a respectable 3-point deficit within the first three minutes of the second half. That’s all she wrote on the Yellowjackets, however, as in a blink of an eye the game turned into a blowout. Kahl, Maccoux and Mazzeo combined for 65 points in the game as they formed the backbone of a run that put the Spartans ahead of Rochester by as many as 31 points in the closing minutes of the game. The checking in of the reserves singled the essential end of the contest with around three minutes remaining. The crowd gave the starters a standing ovation and enjoyed a glimpse of the future of Spartan basketball as the lineup of all first-years extended the lead to 31 on an inbounds steal and layup from first-year guard Charlie Fox with 32 ticks left on the clock. After a Yellowjackets layup, the Spartans dribbled the ball out and secured the 99-70 win.

CWRU will be in action next on Saturday versus CMU, where the Spartans will honor their eight seniors and graduate students appearing in their final game with a special “Senior Day” celebration prior to the contest in Horsburgh Gymnasium.

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