Two down and three to go for the men’s basketball team. UR won both of it’s games this weekend and has three must-win road games remaining.
UR is currently ranked No. 2 in the East region and should earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the final three games of the season.
The Yellowjackets’ NCAA hopes were almost dealt a devastating blow Friday night when UR squandered an eight-point halftime lead before defeating Brandeis University 67-59 in overtime.
“We won on a night in which we were really struggling to shoot, so I thought it was a good win,” head coach Mike Neer said. “We didn’t shoot the ball real well. Fortunately, we got some rebounds and were able to score and we made some plays in overtime.”
Senior forward Kyle Leach made most of those plays in overtime. Leach scored six points and made two assists in the extra period and finished with nine points and four assists in 20 minutes.
“He made a couple good defensive plays, had a couple good passes to teammates under the basket and made very timely contributions,” Neer said.
UR would not have needed the overtime period if the shooting had been better. Sophomore center Brian Jones scored 18 points in the first 8:30 of the game. Brandeis then switched to a zone defense, which limited Jones’ opportunities but left UR’s perimeter shooters more open.
The Yellow-jackets did not take advantage, as they shot 38.8-percent from the floor for the game and under 30-percent in the second half. Despite UR’s poor shooting, Brandeis never led after the first 1:30 of the game.
Things were easier on Sunday as UR rolled to a 62-48 victory over New York University to improve to 9-2 in the University Athletic Association and 18-4 overall.
The 18 wins are the most since UR went 28-3 to reach the NCAA Division III Championship in 1992.
UR actually trailed NYU by one point at halftime, but an 18-2 run to start the second half put the game away.
Sophomore Andy Larkin scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 28 minutes. Larkin led the team in scoring and was the UAA Rookie of the Year last season, but his role has been somewhat reduced this year.
“It’s all about winning,” Neer said. “We have more talent than we did last year. No returner is playing as much as they did a year ago, but we are doing better [as a team].”
Neer looks to the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, who were introduced as a team before every game this season, as a sign that focusing on teamwork helps in the long run.
“It’s human nature that we are all interested in ourselves,” Neer said. “One of the characteristics of very good teams is that they buy into the team right away.”
Jones scored 16 points against NYU after finishing with 26 against Brandeis. He now leads the team with 12.7 points per game ? and nearly 15 points per game in conference play ? despite playing just over 20 minutes per game.
“For a long time, Brian served us very well coming off the bench,” Neer said, “We felt after this last stretch we wanted to see if we could get him involved earlier in the game.”
An up-and-down player last season, Jones has been the team’s most consistent scoring threat recently as he has averaged 17.5 points per game in the last six games.
“Brian has matured significantly,” Neer said. “He is a bright fellow, he’s got enthusiasm, he’s surrounded by good, supportive teammates and in my mind it was just a question of when, not if.”
Sunday was also Senior Day and the last regular season home game for Leach.
“Any Senior Day can be sad, as mine was on the way over to the game,” Leach said. “But once I got around my teammates and coaches, I forgot about it being my last game and just went out and had fun.
“Our success this season has made it easier to accept the fact my basketball career may be over soon and I am thankful my teammates and coaches are here to enjoy it with me.”
Leach hopes to play in the postseason one last time this season, and the Yellowjackets have three games left to try and put themselves in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
UR last made the NCAA Tournament in the 1998-99 season, which was Leach’s freshman year.
The Yellowjackets play at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland on Friday at 8 p.m. before traveling to Emory University in Atlanta for a 1 p.m. game Sunday.
UR finishes its season at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.