On a frigid Friday night, the men’s basketball team was able to bring heat to Winterfest. The Palestra was packed with long-time spectators as well as new fans. Whether the members of the crowd showed up for the game or the unveiling of the new Yellowjacket mascot, Friday night managed to capture UR pride and unity in its true form.
The Yellowjackets entered the Palestra coming off their first loss of the season in overtime against the Emory University Eagles and received a warm reception from the UR fans.
Preceding the men’s game, the UR women’s team had ousted their opponent in an overtime thriller, setting the grand stage for the Yellowjackets to upend the University Athletic Association and Division III top-ranked team, the Washington University in St. Louis Golden Bears.
From the opening tip-off, it became clear that both teams were driven.
With just over two minutes left before halftime and the half looking like it was going to conclude in a tie, senior guard Rob Dominiak came up big, draining a 3-pointer and a buzzer-beating mid-range jumper that helped give the ‘Jackets a seven-point lead going into halftime. Senior center Jon Onyiriuka and senior forward Uche Ndubizu combined for 15 points and eight rebounds in the first. Dominiak was also big before the break, slating 11 points including shooting 75 percent from behind the 3-point arch.
In between halves, fans got to enjoy two half-time performances: a dance routine from D’Motions and a performance from the ‘Jacket cheerleaders.
Entering the second period, the ‘Jackets held onto a 34-27 lead, but it was apparent that hibernation was over when the Bears came out hungry for the ball. In the opening five minutes, Wash U went on a 12-4 run, putting the Bears ahead by one point. By applying pressure and running disciplined possessions that reflected their No. 1 ranking, they set the bar, forcing the ‘Jackets to have to answer.
With 5:09 left on the clock, UR was down by five points. Just as the fans began to get wary, Ndubizu produced a heart-pumping one-handed slam. The team and crowd of 1,800 fans were fired up and on their feet. A key 3-point shot with 2:16 left by junior guard Mike Chmielowiec also helped put the ‘Jackets back in the game. Despite the fact that he was only one for five in the second half, Chmielowiec reminded the Bears that every Yellowjacket can sting when least expected.
As the game approached the final buzzer, the ‘Jackets were down, 63-61. With just under 10 seconds left on the clock, the ball was in-bounded to senior guard Jeff Juron. Seconds expired as Juron dribbled up the court and passed the ball to Ndubizu, who made up for the two crucial free-throw shots he had missed earlier by sinking the game-tying layup as the final seconds expired from the clock. The play showed the heart of the ‘Jackets as they persevered and sent the game into overtime.
In the extra period, the Yellowjackets made smart plays and wisely executed their possessions. Free-throw shooting for UR was key to helping the team edge the Bears by four points in a thrilling overtime battle. As a result of the victory, the Yellowjackets moved into a tie for No. 1 in the UAA and appeared to be poised to again take over the top spot in Division III. The night was wrapped up with the infamous chants of the ‘Jacket fans screaming, “I believe that we have won!”
To finish the Winterfest Weekend, the ‘Jackets met the University of Chicago on Sunday at noon. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out quite as well as in Friday’s game. Chicago led the ‘Jackets throughout the majority of the game, resulting in a 74-65 Chicago victory.
It was the ‘Jackets’ first loss at home this season. The defeat gave UR its current record of 16-2 for the season and 5-2 in the UAA. It also kept them stagnant at the No. 3 spot in the d3hoops.com top-25 poll.
UR did not attempt a free-throw shot in the first half and was inconsistent from the 3-point arch, where they generally shoot a high percentage. The loss also proved to be due to a lack of execution in the second half. During a four-minute period after halftime, UR failed to get any points.
In the closing minutes of the second half, it became clear that the ‘Jackets needed something big, but Chicago continued to sink free throws and UR was unable to sustain any momentum. Onyiriuka was only three for eight from the line and was held to seven points in the game.
With only 31 seconds left on the clock, Chicago led the ‘Jackets by 10 points and was able to hold on to upend the home team. Dominiak led the ‘Jackets with 19 points, and Ndubizu contributed 16 points.
The loss put an end to the ‘Jackets’ 13-game home winning streak, but they will have to put the loss behind them and focus on their chance for redemption as they face off against Chicago again on Friday night, then travel to St. Louis to take on Wash U on Sunday.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.