Ever since I was young, I have loved chips. Potato, tortilla and barbeque. You name the kind and I love it. I’m also a big fan of poker chips. Who doesn’t enjoy winning a big hand and racking in them in?
After his performance this past weekend though, I have developed an affinity for a different kind of chip: UR men’s basketball (11-5, 2-3 UAA) senior guard Chris “Chip” Dende.
Dende shot lights out in an 86-68 win over Case Western Reserve University (8-8, 0-5 UAA) on Friday night, scoring 15 points on 5-10 shooting to go along with two assists, one block and three steals. Maybe even more important though was the positive impact he had on UR’s defense.
“[Dende] was huge for us against Case,” UR head coach Luke Flockerzi said. “We challenged him to guard one of the more explosive offensive players in the league, [junior forward] Austin Fowler. [Dende] held him to [nine points]…That was a huge performance by him as a senior captain.”
The Clarks Summit, Pa. native made an even bigger buzz Sunday afternoon against Carnegie Mellon University (6-10, 1-4 UAA) when he not only saved the day, but also finished it.
At the 13:58 minute mark in the second half, UR trailed Carnegie by 15 points. But the ’Jackets went on a 27-11 run over the next 13 minutes, thanks to scoring by six different players: senior forward Nate Novosel, junior center Rob Reid, junior guard John DiBartolomeo, sophomore forward Nate Vernon, freshman guard Tyler Seidman and Dende.
The scoring spree gave UR a 59-58 lead with 20 seconds left.
UR’s comeback set the stage for the miraculous finish. Carnegie scored two layups, putting the Tartans up 62-59.
What ensued in the remaining .06 seconds will go down as arguably the greatest, most-clutch shot in school history.
Looking for DiBartolomeo’s inbound pass from half-court, Dende used a screen from Novosel to separate himself from Carnegie’s defenders. Dende stood 30 feet away, slightly to the right of the top of the key, with his back turned toward the basketball. In one unified motion Dende received the pass, turned and threw an off-balanced shot in the direction of the basket.
Six-tenths of a second later the buzzer had sounded, the prayer had been answered and the game was sent into overtime.
The crowd erupted and one student fan, in complete euphoria, jumped out of the stands to celebrate with the cheerleaders on the court. UR’s bench immediately cleared to praise Dende.
“With 0.6 seconds, you don’t have time to dribble or do anything,” Dende said. “You just catch and turn. I saw a clean look to the basket and it dropped.”
With the momentum on their side, the ’Jackets outscored Carnegie 10-2 in overtime, giving them a 72-64 victory. Fittingly, Dende iced the game with 12 seconds left on a three-pointer that put UR up six. He finished with a team-high 16 points on 6-15 shooting, three rebounds, one assist and two steals.
“[Hitting the shot to send the game to overtime] is right up there with my best basketball moments, but not so much as a personal moment. It’s so special because we needed to win this game. And I was lucky enough to help us get there,” Dende said.
After starting the UAA season 0-3, the games against Case and Carnegie were, as Dende mentioned, absolute must-wins. And, with perhaps a little luck, the ’Jackets stepped up big.
Dende may have effectively saved the ’Jackets season with his game-tying shot. The defending UAA champs could not afford to lose to either Case or Carnegie, especially since both occupy last place spots in the UAA.
“This was huge for us,” DiBartolomeo said. “Our goal is always to protect our home court and a loss would’ve been detrimental…We have some good momentum going forward.”
At 2-3, the Yellowjackets are currently fifth place in the conference, two games behind Emory University, New York University and Washington University in St. Louis, all of whom are tied for first place with 3-1 records. With nine more league games remaining, including two against Washington University and one apiece against Emory and NYU, winning the UAA is still very much in reach.
Followers of UR basketball have my new favorite “Chip” to thank for that.