In a series of fortunate events, the Emory men’s basketball team tied with the Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) (Mo.) Bears for the University Athletic Association (UAA) title after a victory against the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Yellowjackets 80-76 on Feb. 29. With the Bears’ loss to the University of Chicago 77-70 on the same night, the Eagles clinched the conference and advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament.
The Eagles and Yellowjackets came out to play on Saturday. For the entirety of the game, the score went back and forth. Neither team took a significant lead at any point in the game, except for when the Eagles were up 70-57 with five minutes left in the second half.
After a slow start by both teams, the first half came to a close with the Eagles up only 43-39. But at the beginning of the second half, the Eagles brought a new energy.
After a few turnovers from the Yellowjackets and several powerful offensive moves by the Eagles, Emory began to pull away. After the Eagles gained a five-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game — one of their largest leads of the match — the squad took a timeout. Following the timeout, junior guard Matthew Schner made a critical steal that led to a layup, putting the Eagles up 53-48.
Schner noted how the calming energy in the timeout huddles helped the team focus on the task at hand.
“The discussion in the huddles is always very positive, and it was something that helped us gain the lead and continue to develop throughout the second half,” Schner said. “Those moments are obviously important to get everyone on the same page, and I think we did a good job of [doing] that in our timeouts.”
The Eagles continued to pick up the pace and went on a 17-9 run over the next eight minutes. With five minutes remaining and the Eagles up 70-57, Emory maintained momentary control on the court. However, after junior guard Nick Stuck and sophomore forward Mason Johnson each committed a foul, the Yellowjackets started to crawl back.
With only a few minutes remaining in the match that would decide the Eagles’ NCAA fate, the Yellowjackets began to creep up on the Eagles. With 48 seconds left, the Yellowjackets had reduced the score difference to two points, with the Eagles up just 78-76. At this moment, the Eagles took another timeout.
The clock soon after winded down to three seconds, and in a final attempt to prolong the match, Yellowjackets sophomore guard Ross Gang fouled junior guard Nick Stuck. With all eyes on him, Stuck went to the line and made both his free throws. The Eagles finished in an 80-76 victory over the Yellowjackets.
The Eagles four leading scorers all hit double digits, with Schner leading the pack with 20 points and junior forward Lawrence Rowley not far behind with 17 points. Rowley also grabbed 13 of the team’s 30 total rebounds.
While Schner was satisfied with the team’s performance against Rochester, he believes that the team needs to work on finishing the game more comfortably. In two recent games, the Eagles have lost to devastating buzzer beaters, Schner said.
“They had a chance to take the lead at the end,” Schner said. “So that’s something we definitely need to prevent in the future: making sure we close out games.”
On March 6, the Eagles will head to the first round of the NCAA tournament and face the Methodist University (N.C.) Monarchs at 7:30 p.m. When the Eagles found out they would make the tournament, they were in the airport. It was an unforgettable moment, Schner said.
“Later that day in the airport, we found out that the University of Chicago beat WashU and we were able to gain a share of the UAA title,” Schner said. “Finding that out in the airport was an exciting experience and definitely a moment that all of us on the team are going to remember: running down the airport and being able to celebrate that as a team.”