In a season that has so far featured almost exclusively comfortable victories, the men’s basketball team faced one of their toughest challenges of the year on Sunday, Jan. 27 against the Brandeis University Judges in front of a packed crowd at the Louis Alexander Palestra. After taking down the New York University Violets on Friday, Jan. 26, the ‘Jackets were able to make it a perfect weekend and keep their unbeaten record of 19-0 intact in a nail-biting game dominated by senior John DiBartolomeo, who set a UR record with 19 free throws, part of his overall 36 points that day.
To make the victories even more meaningful, the ‘Jackets moved up to number one in the national Division III basketball rankings this week, surpassing the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Against NYU, an announced crowd of 1,625 enjoyed one of the year’s many strong games from the now first ranked ‘Jackets, which eventually prevailed 65-50. DiBartolomeo and sophomore Tyler Sankes led the ‘Jackets with 15 points each. DiBartolomeo also dished out six assists and had a season-best of 10 rebounds.
Along with Sankes, a number of other Rochester players contributed off the bench, accounting for 32 of the team’s 65 points. Perhaps the biggest difference between the teams was shooting the three-point range. While NYU only went 3-13 (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc, the ‘Jackets were an impressive 7-18 (38.9 percent).
Rochester had their eyes on the out-of-town scoreboard throughout the night, as Brandeis, with whom they shared the UAA Conference lead, was in action against the Emory University Eagles in Atlanta. Although Emory beat the Judges, giving UR sole possession of first place in the conference, the stage was still set for an important game Sunday at the Palestra.
Despite the noontime Sunday tip-off, fans and students alike showed up in droves to see the undefeated Yellowjackets take on a feisty, talented Brandeis team. Brandeis’s Ben Bartoldus started off strong for the visitors, knocking down a pair of three pointers in a less than 25-second span early on. DiBartolomeo would respond almost immediately, though ,with a three pointer of his own, keeping Rochester neck-and-neck with the high energy Judges midway through the first half.
Soon after, the Yellowjackets began to reap the benefits of home-court advantage as a boisterous student section clearly frazzled Brandeis, causing one of their 16 turnovers on the day. At the end of the first half though, Rochester faced a four-point deficit of 29-25.
Four minutes into the second half, Brandeis’s Gabriel Moton, a transfer from Division I Boston College, drew an offensive foul on Rochester freshman Kyle Reardon, a call that was loudly objected by the crowd. Fortunately, the controversial decision seemed to spark a burst of energy for the ‘Jackets. Less than a minute later, DiBartolomeo threw up a lob pass for sophomore Kent Coyne, who leapt and threw down the alley-oop dunk to put the ‘Jackets within three. From then on, DiBartolomeo settled into a groove, helping pull Rochester to a two-point lead with under a minute to play.
After a missed Brandeis field goal attempt and a subsequent rebound by Sankes, the Judges took 10 valuable seconds to intentionally foul, their only hope of staying within striking distance and having a shot to win the game or send it to overtime. In the end though, the wasted time proved not to matter, as DiBartolomeo knocked down two more free throws to put Rochester up by four and out of striking distance with a final score of 69-65. After the game, the ‘Jackets appeared both pleased with their hard-fought victory as well as relieved to have escaped with a win against a dangerous opponent.
This weekend, the Yellowjackets will bring their number-one ranking to New York City as they once again take on NYU on Friday, Feb. 1. Following their encounter in New York, the ‘Jackets will travel north to battle Brandeis once again, matching up on Sunday, Feb. 3 in Boston in what is sure to be another hotly contested UAA conference game.
Shapiro is a member of the class of 2016.