The men’s basketball team is five games away from regaining its title as University Athletic Association Conference Champions. However, given the way each conference game has played out thus far, they know it will not be easy.
“While we are confident, we realize that there is a lot of basketball left, and UAA games are never easy wins,” senior Brendan McAllister said.
This past weekend, the conference-leading Yellowjackets improved their UAA record to 8-1 – winning their last seven straight games and 12 of their last 13 games.
McAllister and senior All-American Seth Hauben carried the Yellowjackets in home victories against conference rivals Emory University and Case Western Reserve University. On Friday night, UR rallied to beat Emory, 64-61.
McAllister led the team with a career high seven three-pointers, including five in the second half, as the Yellowjackets held on for the win in a game decided by free throws.
McAllister’s seven three-pointers are one shy of the team single-game record and one shy of the Palestra record. The most impressive part of McAllister’s stellar performance was his confidence to pull up and knock down shots while UR trailed during crucial points in the second half.
“Brendan and I have played together for four years now,” Hauben said.” I know when he is looking for his shot and when he is looking to feed the post. His shooting ability makes my life a lot easier.”
In need of some offense, McAllister ran off screens, looking to spot up outside the arc in the second half.
“Teams have to adjust to guarding such a great post player like Seth [Hauben], which is why Emory played a zone against us,” McAllister said. “I was just happy to spark our team offensively in the second half so that we could get the win.”
After hitting his first few shots, everyone in the Palestra knew that if McAllister got an open look, the ball was going in. The senior put on a shooting clinic, knocking down shots from NBA range to help bring the Yellowjackets back into the game.
“On Friday night, everything felt good, and the important thing for me was to keep telling myself the next one is going down no matter what,” McAllister said.
McAllister hit three three-pointers less than four and a half minutes into the second half as UR moved into a 44-39 lead. Senior point guard Gabe Perez increased the team’s lead to six, with a nice drive and layup.
Emory refused to lie down and responded with a 13-0 run of their own, leading 54-47 with only 8:26 to play. In a game of scoring runs, UR chipped away at the lead.
With Emory ahead of UR 56-53, Hauben scored twice from down low and sophomore Tim Brackney sank a big three to put the Yellowjackets ahead, 58-56.
In the last minute of the game, Hauben and freshman Jeff Juron each grabbed key offensive rebounds, which allowed the Yellowjackets to run some clock and force Emory to foul.
Emory fouled Juron and sent the freshman to the line for two shots. He calmly nailed both free throws.
Emory’s Jeff Hall came down on the other end and nailed a deep three-pointer with just 7.8 seconds left.
Emory fouled and tested Juron again – he came through in the clutch by knocking down both free throws to give Rochester a 64-61 win.
Hauben had 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Juron finished with nine points, but none were more important than his four free throws in the last 15 seconds to help clinch the win for the Yellowjackets.
Hauben had reason to celebrate on Super Bowl Sunday. In addition to seeing the Patriots repeat as the NFL champions, the Boston native led a balanced attack with 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Yellowjackets into a solid victory over CWRU, 84-50.
Hauben also moved into second place in career rebounding at UR. He upped his career total to 993 rebounds.
Hauben is only 30 boards shy of surpassing all-time leader Chris Fite, who compiled 1,023 rebounds in his career from 1988-92.
McAllister picked right up where he left off on Friday, sinking a pair of three-pointers to ignite an early 17-5 UR lead. The Yellowjackets spread the ball around offensively to take a commanding lead they would not surrender.
Brackney continued to provide an offensive spark off the bench with a career-high 17 points, hitting six of seven floor shots.
After his only miss in the game, the quiet-spoken Brackney jokingly asked a referee to fix the rim.
Brackney’s scoring ability and ball handling skills have afforded the talented sophomore big minutes in conference play, and he has emerged as another offensive threat for UR.
McAllister scored 13 points and finished the weekend with 11 three-pointers.
Freshman Jon Onyiriuka scored 11, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots.
Head Coach Mike Neer praised his team for working hard in practice and being mentally prepared for each game.
Sunday’s game was Neer’s 750th as head coach at UR. In his 29th season, Neer has attained a career record of 468-282.
“We are playing better now than we were a month ago,” Neer said.
The Yellowjackets’ next home game is against New York University on Feb. 11.
Rovinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.