Despite some injuries to key players, the UR men’s basketball team is 12-4 (3-2 in University Athletic Association play) and still in the hunt for a bid to the National Tournament.

The ‘Jackets split games this past weekend, losing 73-42 to the Washington University in St. Louis Bears on Friday night but bouncing back to beat the University of Chicago Maroons, 70-60, on Sunday afternoon.

The third-ranked Bears (15-1) proved why they sit atop the UAA. They beat the Yellowjackets handily in front of a packed Palestra crowd.

Wash U the defending national champion was fueled by 10 3-pointers, four of which came from Aaron Thompson, the game’s leading scorer who netted 16 points.

The ‘Jackets played without senior forward Mike Chmielowiec a co-captain and the team’s top scorer (20.1 points per game) who missed two games before returning to the court to face Chicago. Chmielowiec’s injury came at a bad time for UR, which recently lost sophomore guard Mike Labanowski for the remainder of the season. Labanowski a solid perimeter scorer was sidelined after suffering a knee injury on Jan. 16 against St. John Fisher College.

Without Chmielowiec and Labanowski, junior guards John Charlesworth and Colin Cubit were forced into starting roles. The two guards led the ‘Jackets in scoring on Friday Charlesworth scored 13 points and Cubit added 11.

‘John and Colin have stepped up big these past few games,” senior co-captain and starting point guard Max Kaplan said.

The stands were filled for Pack the Palestra, but the ‘Let’s Go ‘Jackets” chants didn’t help tip the scale in UR’s favor. Although the team was upset about its performance, it was encouraged by the positive fan support.

‘It’s great seeing the stands crowded,” Kaplan said. ‘We really appreciate the support and hope to see people come out for the rest of our games.”

Chmielowiec echoed his co-captain’s appreciation for the fans.

‘The UAA is a tough conference, and home court advantage is huge,” he said. ‘Any team in the conference can beat any other team on any given night, but it’s especially tough to win one on another team’s court.”

The ‘Jackets will play five of their remaining nine games at home.

Chmielowiec’s return to play was certainly a welcome one on Sunday, as his 18 points led the ‘Jackets to victory against Chicago. The game was truly a tale of two halves, with the visiting Maroons leading 36-28 at the break, only to be outscored 42-24 in the second half.

After shooting 42.3 percent from the field in the first half, UR shot an impressive 63 percent in the final 20 minutes. The change was most obvious from behind the arc the team made six of 11 shots in the second half.

As has been the case for much of the season and most of his career, Kaplan was the unsung hero of Sunday’s game. He leads the team in minutes played (31.6 per game), steals (two per game) and assists (7.9 per game). The point guard, who is generously listed as a 6-footer, grabbed five rebounds on Sunday, the last of which drew a standing ovation from the crowd as UR’s victory became assured in the final minutes of the game. He gained a lot of experience last season and his ability to run the offense will be crucial for the ‘Jackets down the stretch.

Although Kaplan is not the scoring threat that his teammate Chmielowiec is, his passing and decision-making are equally as critical to the team’s success. UR will need help from these stars if the team hopes to make a run into March.

After graduating five contributing players from last season’s team, UR has had to look for help in many different places.

One place was Lexington, Ky., the home of freshman forward Nate Novosel. The 6-foot-5 Novosel scores 10.8 points per game and averages 5.9 rebounds. In addition to Novosel, freshman classmate William Serle has been a big offensive presence off the bench, adding 7.4 points per game.

Also in the front court, sophomore center Marcus Roberson whose wide frame allows him to play bigger than 6-foot-3 has started all 16 games alongside Novosel, averaging 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The two big men show a lot of promise for developing the team’s inside game and should be a formidable duo for the next two seasons.

Starr is a member of the class of 2009.

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