The men’s basketball team stayed in second place in the University Athletic Association by splitting a pair of road games against Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago.
UR lost to Washington 65-48 Friday and then defeated Chicago 54-51 Sunday to move to 6-1 in the league and 15-3 overall.
“To lose both out there would have seriously dampened some conference championship dreams,” head coach Mike Neer said.
UR now faces the most important weekend of the season. The Yellowjackets host defending UAA champion Chicago, which is currently third in the UAA, at 8 p.m. Friday.
“It’s the first time I can remember that we’ll be playing a team back-to-back,” Neer said. “We’re going to have to play very well against Chicago again.”
UR plays Washington Sunday at noon.
“Needless to say, it’s a huge weekend,” Neer said. “I know it’s unthinkable that a college student be vertical at noon on a Sunday, but they would see very good basketball and be deeply appreciated by the team.”
UR has not lost at home this season and could move back into first place if that trend continues. The Yellowjackets must be better than they were on Friday to have a chance of beating Washington, however.
Washington went on a 17-0 run early in the first half and UR only made four field goals in the first half.
“We were uncharacteristically impatient and lacked poise on offense,” Neer said. “Wash. U prides itself on good defense and they played good defense, but I was stunned by the total lack of patience.”
UR went on a 12-0 run early in the second half and pulled to within five points with 12:31 left to play, but Washington called a timeout and then went on a 9-1 run to seal the game.
Chicago also got out to an early lead, but UR was able to stay close and only trailed 27-25 at halftime. UR took its first lead early in the second half and withstood another Chicago run to take a 52-47 lead with 5:41 left.
“We kept grinding away much tougher on our opponent, so that was the progress we made from Friday to Sunday,” Neer said. “To watch them exercise some discipline and focus was a mature moment.”
Sophomore forward Brian Jones scored 16 points in each game and now leads the team with 11.3 points per game. Sophomore guard Makedo Wisseh tied a career high with 11 points against Chicago in 19 minutes.
“Wisseh and Jones did the bulk of our scoring and both have very infectious enthusiasm,” Neer said.
Wisseh’s offensive ability is no surprise to coach Neer, but it is his improvement on defense that has allowed him to get more playing time.
“He’s the best on our team in terms of attacking the basket,” Neer said. “At times we felt he could be a liability on defense. He has gotten to the point where he is sounder and much more reliable on defense.”
Wisseh has been working on his defense and hopes that his improvements will allow him to play more and help UR on offense.
“I am starting to realize the importance of working on my defense everyday in practice and listening to the coaches’ tips for improvement,” Wisseh said. “Being able to contribute in [the win over Chicago] helped me get some confidence that hopefully will enable me to help the team throughout the remainder of the season.”
His contributions to UR’s offense will be more than welcome this weekend. The Yellowjackets will need a good team effort and the support of a raucous home crowd to sweep both games.
“We look forward to seeing both Chicago and Washington in our gym this weekend,” Neer said.
He hopes UR students look forward to it as well and show up to cheer the team on as it continues its bid for a conference title and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.