The men’s basketball team dropped a pair of University Athletic Association matchups this past week, putting a bit of a damper on what has otherwise been a respectable start to a highly-anticipated season for the ’Jackets. With losses to Washington University in St. Louis and University of Chicago over the weekend, the men’s team fell to 11-7 overall (2-5 in the UAA).
It didn’t help that the Yellowjackets were visitors in both competitions, spending days road-tripping throughout the Midwest just to be greeted by unsympathetic fan bases.
Nevertheless, the young UR team was prepared for the challenge.
In the first of the games, an 83-78 defeat at the hands of the Wash U Bears, sophomore Nate Vernon and junior John DiBartolomeo paced the ’Jackets. Vernon was UR’s lead scorer with 21 points, with DiBartolomeo right behind him with 19. Freshman Tyler Seidman showed flashes of the promising future for UR, adding 15 points to the total.
The matchup between the two elite teams lived up to its full hype, as both teams shot quite well from the floor (UR shot 53 percent, Wash U just a notch higher at 58 percent) and from outside the arc (UR drained nine of 20 3-point shots, Wash U a conservative five of 10) and neither team seemed to dominate play at any given moment. UR took an early 18-12 lead early in the first half, but saw the advantage quickly disappear when the Bears went on a mad 10-0 run to push the tally to 28-20.
The game would go back and forth for much of the second half, and as fate would have it UR made a charge in the game’s final moments that gave Wash U and the home crowd a scare. DiBartolomeo and Vernon combined for eight points in the game’s final 20 seconds to push the visitors within three of their opponents (81-78). Two Bears responded with a combined five straight points of their own, however, to pull away.
DiBartolomeo was a major presence on the floor again on Sunday, Jan. 29, when the Yellowjackets took on Chicago. In addition to leading the ’Jackets with 22 points, DiBartolomeo surpassed a mind-boggling milestone by tallying his 1,000th career point. He is the youngest Yellowjacket (and just the 26th ever) to accumulate such a total since Seth Hauben accomplished the feat in the 2003-04 season.
DiBartolomeo wasn’t the only player to reach the 1,000-point mark in the game, however. Chicago’s Matt Johnson, red-hot after his mesmerizing 49-points powered the Maroons by Emory University the night before, poured in 36 points to add his name to the 1,000-point club as well. Johnson proved to be the difference-maker as the Maroons slid by the Yellowjackets, 92-92, despite solid performances from DiBartolomeo, Vernon (20 points) and Nate Novosel (18 points).
Tied 45-45 at halftime, the Maroons broke open the second half, building a nine-point lead halfway through. UR bounced back, however, to close within two of the hosts. This pattern — of the Maroons stretching the lead to nine, only to have the Yellowjackets roar back to within two — continued for much of the remainder of the game.
The final minute was nothing short of a shootout. Down 92-85 with under 30 seconds to play, DiBartolomeo made four straight clutch free throws to draw UR to within three. Johnson responded with two free throws of his own to stretch the lead to five (94-89) with 16 seconds to go. Vernon’s 3-pointer on the next play got the ’Jackets within two, but when Johnson went to the line with 6.9 seconds to play, the day was sealed. He made both free throws to put the home team up by four and the ’Jackets out of comeback range.
The Yellowjackets will have a second go at both Wash U and Chicago this coming weekend, as the Bears visit Friday, Feb. 3 and the Maroons Sunday, Feb. 5.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2014.