In their final road weekend of the season, the Eagles were ousted by UAA rival Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) Friday, 94-65, before bouncing back against the University of Chicago Sunday, 99-88. The win at Chicago brought an end to a painful three game-slide, but could not prevent Emory (15-7) from dropping a spot in the UAA standings from No. 3 to No. 4.
If this season taught the Eagles anything, it is that there is no rest for the weary in the UAA. Following a tough weekend that included losses to UAA bottom-feeders New York University and Brandeis University (Mass.), the Eagles were tasked with dethroning league leader WashU, a team that had yet to lose in UAA competition (9-0). Emory played a tight game at home against the WashU Bears earlier this year, losing 71-63 Jan. 13, and would need an even stronger performance Friday to tie the season-series.
Through the first half of play, the Eagles looked poised to do just that. Despite trailing by as many as 12 points in the first, Emory would not allow the Bears to pull away. A balanced scoring attack from the Eagles kept WashU within reach despite the Bears’ strong shooting numbers in the first (42 percent from the field, 46 percent from three). Senior forward Austin DaGue was a huge help off the bench, contributing nine points in the first half on the way to a season-high 16 points in the game, helping the Eagles close out the first half down 39-41.
“St. Louis is my hometown, so it was a bit more of an emotional game for me,” DaGue said. “I know my coaches have confidence in me. I know my teammates have confidence in me. I had a good game Friday night and I had a lot of fans there, which was fun.”
However, dethroning the Bears would take much more than one half. WashU woke from hibernation at the start of the second half, outscoring the Eagles 53-26 to close out the game. Five players scored in double figures for WashU, including junior forward Andrew Sanders who scored a team-high 21 points on 53 percent shooting. More importantly, the Bears completely shut down the UAA points-per-game leader, Emory junior forward Adam Gigax (18.9 ppg), who left Friday’s game with only four points to his name.
“I was really proud of the way that we competed in the first half,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said. “We put ourself in a position to win the game … but [that second half] was probably the best half of basketball [WashU] played this year.”
The game’s most lopsided stat came from team rebounds. Emory held a 21-19 advantage on the boards in the first half but were completely obliterated in the second. Bullied on the boards 9-28, the Eagles earned only three offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
“It comes down to getting defensive stops and rebounds, which we did a good job of in the first half, but it got away from us in the second and that’s why they were able to pull away,” DaGue said.
Hoping to recover from a demoralizing 29-point defeat Friday, the Eagles delivered their best shooting performance of the season Sunday at the expense of the UChicago Maroons. Emory shot 62 percent from the field, 56 percent from three and 89 percent from the free throw line on the way to 99 points and a hard-fought road victory.
“Our passing and catching were better, our cutting was better, and when that happens you get better shots,” Zimmerman said.
The biggest change from Friday? Adam Gigax. After being completely taken out of the game at WashU, Gigax responded Sunday with the best performance of his career. Scoring 36 points on 72 percent shooting from the field (including five three-pointers and a perfect 5-5 line at the charity stripe), Gigax was a force to be reckoned with.
“The best thing about Gigax is that he doesn’t think — he is a natural scorer,” DaGue said. “When he is scoring like that and we are getting stops defensively, we are a tough team to beat.”
However, the efforts of UChicago senior forward Waller Perez and junior guard Jake Fenlon kept the Eagles at bay, the two combining for 42 points on the afternoon. Maybe Perez was still upset about the Emory student section chanting his name during the Maroons’ last visit to the Woodruff Physical Education Center (WoodPEC) earlier this year. Either way, he and Fenlon gave the Eagles everything they could handle.
Tied at 45 early in the second half, consecutive threes from Gigax and junior forward Jim Gordon gave Emory some much-needed breathing room, providing the Eagles with a lead they would not relinquish on the way to a 99-88 win.
Traveling days are over for the Eagles, who have the luxury of playing their final three games of the regular season in the comfort of the WoodPEC. The first of these games will feature the visiting Spartans of Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) Friday, Feb. 17.