The UR men’s basketball team climbed closer to the University Athletic Association conference championship this past weekend.
The team completed the first half of its conference schedule, beating Case Western Reserve University and Emory University.
Ranked first in the UAA with a record of 6-1, UR will now face each UAA team again to finish out the second half of conference play.
The Yellowjackets traveled to Cleveland to face CWRU – anticipating a high-scoring game from the Spartans. During a pregame interview, UR Head Coach Mike Neer emphasized the importance of his team’s rebounding and defense.
Looking to slow down the Spartans, UR players switched positions constantly to keep their opponent off guard and prevent them from pushing the ball up the floor.
The “teacher-student” duo of senior Seth Hauben and freshman Jon Onyiriuka combined for 34 points and 34 rebounds.
Hauben finished with 22 points and a career-high 22 rebounds. Onyiriuka had 12 points and 12 boards. Between them, they helped UR to a 52-33 advantage on the boards.
The Yellowjackets’ control of the glass accounted for 23 offensive rebounds, leading to 27 second-chance points.
In addition to UR’s inside attack, the starting guards each scored in the double digits.
Point guard and senior Gabe Perez led all scorers with a career-high 24 points, including eight out of eight from the foul line. Freshman Jeff Juron and senior Brendan McAllister each had 11 points.
At halftime, the Yellowjackets only led the Spartans by seven points. Then, at the start of the third quarter, McAllister called to his teammates for the ball.
He sank two three-pointers during a 14-1 run over the first 2:22 of the second half to take a 46-26 lead.
Down double digits for much of the second half, the Spartans battled and cut the lead to nine points four times.
Despite the Spartans’ efforts, free throws sealed the deal for the Yellowjackets. The team hit 11 of its last 13 free throws, including six by Perez, to wrap up the win 87-72.
The travel itinerary was the only challenging match UR faced last weekend. Due to an ice storm in Atlanta, the men’s team re-enacted the movie “Terminal,” starring Assistant Coach Tim Sweeny as Tom Hanks.
Despite an exhausting trip, the team’s pep was far from being flat. Hauben and Onyiriuka took command early in the first half as UR’s trio of sharp shooters – McAllister, Juron and senior Ryan Mee – knocked down three-pointer after three-pointer.
The Yellowjackets, in deep foul trouble, gave up a 70-67 lead with 2:51 left on the clock when Emory player Rashawn Allen scored on a traditional three-point play – making a breakaway lay-up and adding a free throw.
Then, Juron took the spotlight. The freshman guard showed incredible confidence and poise by knocking down four out of four free throw attempts in the final two minutes.
Juron and Hauben combined for all the points in a 9-2 run down the stretch as the Yellowjackets rallied for an exciting 77-72 victory over their host.
When UR needs a basket in the closing seconds, the ball goes to Hauben.
That is exactly what happened with time running out – the Yellowjackets fed their big guy. Hauben scored from the block, with 36.5 seconds left, and then stole a pass intended for Emory player Chase Fawsett, with 14 seconds remaining.
Emory then fouled Juron, and he sank both foul shots to clinch the win for the Yellowjackets.
Juron feels his early experience has helped him to prepare for tough UAA games.
“The playing experience I gained during the first semester is certainly helping me now that we have gone into league play,” Juron said. “Playing on the road in the UAA is tough, but as a team we have stuck together and got some important wins. Personally, I’ve just tried to pick and choose the right times to shoot or go to the hole within the course of our offense.”
The team begins the second part of its conference schedule this weekend. Emory and CWRU come to town seeking revenge for their home losses to the jet-lagged Yellowjackets.
Come out on Friday night to rock the Palestra and cheer on the men’s team at 8 p.m. against Emory, then roll out of bed on Sunday as the men take on CWRU at 1 p.m.
Rovinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.