The Emory Eagles men’s basketball team took on the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Yellowjackets at home on Saturday in what proved to be a very special day both on and off the court.
For the Eagles as a whole, the game was the last game of the regular season and with their win, they are now outright champions of the University Athletic Association (UAA) for the first time since 1990. Saturday was also “Senior Day” for the Eagles, who honored their four dedicated, devoted and determined seniors: guard Mike Florin, guard Max Davis, forward Josh Schattie and forward Alex Foster. In attendance, in addition to the largest turnout of the season, were the seniors’ parents, who walked beside their sons as they were introduced in the pregame ceremony. The class of 2015 has won 78 games during its career, the most of any class in school history, and has made it to now four consecutive NCAA Division III Tournaments.
“They have really raised the bar for Emory basketball and have done it in the right way,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said.
Both the Eagles and the Yellowjackets got off to a slow start offensively, each making only one basket in the first four minutes. The Yellowjackets held a 11-6 lead with just over 13 minutes remaining before a 13-2 run by the Eagles put Emory ahead for the remainder of the half. Junior guard Davis Rao started the scoring run by hitting back-to-back three pointers, and Foster followed with five-straight points. Up four with just under eight minutes left in the half, sophomore forward Austin DaGue and guard Jonathan Terry entered the game and proceeded to score the next 14 points for the Eagles as the lead grew to 12 with just over four minutes remaining. After the Yellowjackets narrowed the deficit to six, the Eagles closed out the half on a 10-2 run, widening their lead to 14 at the half.
The Eagles shot 56.2 percent from the field in the first half, including 11-15 from DaGue, Florin and Rao, who each contributed 10 points to lead Emory scorers. The Eagles passed the ball well and found the open man, with Florin dishing out four assists and freshman guard Whit Rapp adding three more. The Yellowjackets were unable to establish consistency on offense, shooting 40.6 percent but turning the ball over 10 times. Rochester junior forward Dylan Peretz led the Yellowjackets with eight points at the half.
In the second half, the Eagles continued to shoot well, building their lead to 16, but the Yellowjackets began to find a rhythm offensively and prevent the game from getting completely out of their reach. The Yellowjackets were unable to contain the Eagles’ shooters as Rao added two more three-pointers, and Terry poured in 12 points, making all five of his shots, including two three-pointers.
With the departure of three starters after this season, DaGue and Terry will deservedly see a significant increase in playing time next season, especially as they continue to keep up their high level of play, according to Zimmerman.
“They’re growing each week,” he said. “Terry is a winner, that’s a great characteristic to have.”
Rochester was visibly frustrated with the officiating as the Yellowjackets bench and senior guard Kevin Sheehy were each called for technical fouls. Up 14 with just over 11 minutes left, the Eagles began to lose some focus, missing layups, turning the ball over and not coming to stops, allowing the Yellowjackets to go on a 14-2 run that narrowed the score to 71-69. However, that would be as close as the game would get. After junior forward Will Trawick ended the Yellowjackets’ run with a layup, the Eagles called a timeout with just under eight minutes remaining. Following the timeout, the Eagles continued on a 17-0 run to close out the game, capped off by an impressive tip-in by freshman forward Chris Avant that put an exclamation mark on a great win.
The Eagles held the Yellowjackets scoreless in the final eight minutes as they held on and came away with an 88-69 victory, earning them the UAA title. Immediately after the final buzzer, the Eagles rejoiced at midcourt, where they received their UAA championship hats and shirts and were mobbed by fans in celebration of their accomplishment.
Terry finished with 18 points, leading Emory scorers. Florin added 17 and six assists, while Rao added 16 and seven rebounds off the bench.
“It is a great feeling. Being sole champions is one of our goals, and doing it with my brothers is something that I will always cherish,” Florin said. “I just want to extend it for as long as we can.”
Over the course of 14 conference games, the Eagles displayed their growth and resilience both as individuals and as a team, bouncing back from a 1-2 start in their first three games to win nine of the next 11 and finish 10-4 in league play, as the UAA champions.
“We showed our determination to meet our objectives and getting better every day, and competing on every possession,” Zimmerman said.
It is an experience the team will not likely soon forget.
“We’ve talked about it all season, winning the league was one of our goals, and it is an incredible feeling, and the memory with my friends, family and teammates is something that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Foster said.
Having made three-straight NCAA Division III Tournaments, the Eagles have been here before and know what it takes to make a deep run in the tournament.
“[We have to] do what we’ve always done,” Foster said.
Florin added the team will keep it simple, go about the tournament the same way as other games by playing consistently, and taking it one game at a time.
“The NCAA Tournament is like a whole new season,” Foster said.
The Eagles will kick off their tournament play against Spalding University (Ky.) this Friday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Woodruff Physical Education Center (WoodPEC).
“We’re excited to see where the journey takes us,” Zimmerman added.
— By Joseph Shapiro, Contributing Writer
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