UR Men’s Basketball entered the new season with tremendous expectations despite only returning two starters, ranking 16th in a preseason poll by D3hoops.com. Sam Borst-Smith, Mack Montague, and Zack Ayers are gone, but there are high hopes for those replacing their minutes.
This past weekend, the Yellowjackets (2–0), lead by coach Luke Flockerzi in his eighth season with the team, opened their season at the Palestra by winning the annual Chuck Resler Tournament, beating Bard College and Utica.
On Saturday night, the Yellowjackets faced Utica in the tournament final. The game was much tighter than Friday’s against Bard, as the Pioneers (1–1) refused to go away, and neither team ever lead by double digits in an eventual 72–67 UR win.
Rochester couldn’t have done it without the exceptional play of junior guard Ryan Clamage, who, after shooting just 3–12 from the field and 3–6 from the line against Bard, lit up the Pioneers for a career-high 29 points to go with six rebounds, two assists, a block, and a steal.
The game started in Utica’s favor. Rochester’s first possession was a turnover due to a moving screen violation, and the visitors made a layup and a three in successive possessions. After Rochester missed another two layups on the next possession, Utica had the opportunity to extend its run, but senior forward Tucker Knox blocked a shot inside, and junior guard Michael Mangan stole the ball after an offensive rebound, getting the ‘Jackets on the board on the fast break.
After Utica got its first of many traveling violations, Clamage scored his first bucket on a layup. A Knox three-pointer gave the hosts their first lead of the game, at 7–6, and another Clamage layup extended the run to 9–1.
The ‘Jackets took a slim 32–29 lead into the half. This time around, they were much better from beyond the arc, going 5–11, but they shot just 32 percent on two-pointers. Their eight turnovers weren’t ideal, but the Pioneers committed thirteen in the period, around half of those due to travels. However, they stayed in the game despite making only two two-pointers by going 6–12 from deep, and getting to the line 13 times, although they made only seven free throws. This was because the ‘Jackets committed 13 fouls, putting Utica in the bonus before the 10-minute mark of the half. Knox found himself in foul trouble, committing three and playing just ten minutes.
Rochester lead 40–34 after Clamage hit a jumper to put him at 13 points, but Utica responded with a 9–0 run to gain its first lead of the half with 14 minutes remaining.
At the midpoint of the half, with Rochester back up 49–48, Clamage had the ball stolen by Utica’s Ivan Iton. Iton had an easy scoring opportunity on an uncontested fast break but went for the dunk, which he clanged badly. Utica got the rebound, but Knox stole the ball and found himself in the same situation as Iton, choosing instead to lay it in for the sure two points. The sequence of plays got a big reaction from the crowd, and may have been a turning point in the game.
From that point on, the Pioneers never regained the lead, and the ‘Jackets soon stretched it to 58–50 on a layup by junior guard Alexander Gamble.
Clamage, already at 22 points with two minutes remaining, scored another seven points to ice the game. His 29 points came in a game-high 33 minutes, and he scored them efficiently, going 9–18 from the field and making 8–10 from beyond the line. He was named tournament MVP for his performance.
Alongside Mangan and junior Andrew Lundstrom, Clamage is one of three new starters this year.
“With losing three seniors last year, we knew we had to fill in a big gap,” he said. “We have a lot of talented players that can score double-digits on any given night which makes it hard for teams to scout and guard us. Our coaches give us the confidence to go out and play our game.”
Junior guard Jake Wittig and Knox also scored in double figures, with Wittig recording five assists and Knox tying for the game-lead with eight boards. They both recorded two steals
The Yellowjackets’ first game, on last Friday night against Bard, wasn’t pretty, but Rochester was simply the superior team, and it showed in a 73–54 win.
The game started slow, with a layup by Wittig providing the only scoring in the first four minutes. Fellow junior guard Brendan O’Shea caught fire soon after subbing in at 15:04. After the Raptors (0–2) got on the board with a three, O’Shea made a layup and two threes in consecutive possessions. He knocked down another shot from deep two minutes later, and had himself 11 points in just over four minutes of play.
Meanwhile, the Raptors struggled to mount any semblance of an attack, clanking jumpers and bricking layups, some of which could have certainly been defended better by the ‘Jackets. Rochester continued to pull away with a succession of layups.
At halftime, the hosts lead 34–16. Bard’s stats were unsightly to say the least, as the team shot 4–29 from the field, including 1–12 from three, and had 10 turnovers in the first half. The ‘Jackets had decent efficiency overall, shooting 43 percent, but players not named Brendan O’Shea were just 1–13 on threes, and the team failed to make a free throw, getting to the line just twice. They dominated on the inside, outscoring their opponents 20–6 in the paint.
Once the second half was underway, the Raptors never pieced together a meaningful run. UR continued to score at an acceptable rate, doing slightly better from beyond the arc and continuing to find layup opportunities. Its opponent finally began to make the point-blank shots it been missing earlier, leading to a much more palatable offensive game, but the outcome was well in hand by that point.
Even with their improved efficiency in the second half, the Raptors shot just 29 percent from the field, 20 percent from three, and 57 percent from the line, while committing 17 turnovers. Much can be credited to Rochester’s defense, but Bard’s early missed layups were usually more makeable than they looked.
Rochester’s starting guard trio, consisting of Wittig, Mangan, and Clamage, combined for 42 points, the former two shooting a combined 67 percent from the field. Wittig also had six assists and three steals. Knox, one of the team’s two seniors, lead all players with nine rebounds despite playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble. Lundstrom, the team’s other starting forward, played just 15 minutes for the same reason.
“We didn’t play our best this weekend, but still came out 2–0, which shows the potential this team has,” Clamage said. “We played good defense at crucial points of the game to pull away from victory.”
The Yellowjackets will play on Tuesday at Hobart College before returning to the Palestra for another four-team tournament this weekend.