The men’s and women’s basketball teams at Emory University weathered another University Athletic Association (UAA) doubleheader this weekend, facing off against the Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) Spartans on Feb. 18 and the Carnegie Mellon University (Penn.) Tartans on Feb. 20. The men added two wins, boosting their record to 18-5 overall and 11-2 in conference play en route to their third consecutive UAA championship. The women split their contests and left the weekend 14-8 overall and 8-5 in conference games, remaining in second place in the UAA standings.
The first weekend contest was crucial for both Emory and Case Western: a win for Emory would give them sole possession of first place in the UAA standings, while a win for second-place Case Western would keep their hopes of becoming co-champions alive. The teams traded baskets for the majority of the first half, in large part due to the two-man show of Eagles senior guard Matthew Schner and Case Western graduate guard Mitch Prendergast.
Prendergast’s 21 points, including five three-pointers, put Case Western on top for most of the first half, but Schner poured in 20 points on 8-14 shooting to keep the Eagles alive. With 54 seconds remaining in the first-half, a three-pointer from Prendergast gave the Spartans a 48-41 lead, but a steal and layup from senior guard Romin Williams cut the deficit to five points as the teams headed to the locker room.
The Eagles came out slow to start the second half, allowing Case Western to push their lead to 76-64, their largest of the game, at the 10:09 mark. However, Emory kept them off the board for the next two-and-a-half minutes and closed the gap to 76-73 after a jumper from Schner with 7:44 left to play. Williams tied the game at 79-79 with a jump shot, and Schner put the Eagles on top in similar fashion on their next possession. Case Western graduate forward Brian Hines made two free throws with just under a minute remaining to close the gap to 85-83, but senior guard Nick Stuck matched him to make it a four-point game. Junior guard Mason Johnson then made a free throw with one second left to seal an 88-84 victory for the Eagles.
For Schner, having a dearth of leadership experience on the court was essential to the team’s win, helping them keep their composure and not fold under pressure as the clock wound down.
“When you start to get sped up and your heart rate starts to move quicker, that’s when a lot of teams can start to not play their best basketball,” Schner said. “I think we were pretty poised in those moments this weekend, which definitely helped us win.”
Prendergast finished with 38 points, but Schner bested him with a career-high 39 points on 16-29 shooting in 39 minutes of play. Schner’s performance tied the Emory single-game record for field goals made and put him tied for second-place in the Emory single-game scoring record book. While Schner’s individual efforts contributed greatly to the win, Schner credited his historic achievement to his teammates.
“I play with the best point guard in the country in Nick Stuck, and he gets me the ball in great situations,” Schner said. “I’m lucky to be on a team that has all the ultimate confidence in me, so that’s really what drives me to continue to take those shots.”
Stuck tallied 16 points and three steals, and Williams and junior guard Max Fried each added 10 points. With their first-place UAA finish, the Eagles ensured their ninth consecutive postseason berth, becoming the first Division III team to qualify for the playoffs this season.
Although Emory came out on top against Case Western, Schner said that they have much to improve upon if they are to make a deep NCAA Tournament run in the weeks to come.
“There were moments where we put the other team in situations where if they hit big shots, we weren’t going to win those games, and you can’t do that in the tournament,” Schner said. “You have to take every possession with a sense of urgency and put yourself in situations where you’re in control of whether or not the shots are going in. You have to force teams to miss shots, not hope they miss shots.”
In their second matchup, Emory squared off against Carnegie Mellon. The score remained tight for the entirety of the first half, and Emory seemed poised to break away after Williams hit back-to-back threes to put the Eagles up 43-35 with 1:38 left. The Tartans, however, shut them out until the buzzer sounded and shortened the deficit to 38-43. Carnegie Mellon then made a run to open the second half and took a 66-61 lead. The teams exchanged free throws to even the game at 70-70 until Stuck’s three-pointer put Emory back on top with 3:15 to play. After Tartans senior guard Charlie Tripp made a three-pointer to tie the game at 78-78, Williams missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have ended the game in regulation.
Carnegie Mellon opened overtime with four unanswered points and held momentum as the clock dwindled down, but freshman guard Albert Fallas hit back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game at 85-85 with 24 seconds remaining. At the four-second mark, Schner hit a fadeaway jump shot to give the Eagles the 87-86 lead. The Tartans were unable to execute on the final play of the game, and Emory walked away from the weekend with another win under their belt. Schner finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds, while Stuck chipped in 25 points and eight assists.
Schner praised Fallas for coming up clutch in overtime, but said that the team has to improve defensively moving forward to prevent their opponents from even having the opportunity to hit game-winning shots.
“There’s a lot of things that we did this weekend which are not going to be good enough to win us NCAA Tournament games,” Schner said. “We only get so many opportunities to [play]. Having that opportunity is something we want to seize and we want to enjoy that moment.”
The women’s contest on Feb. 18 promised to be highly competitive, as both teams were vying for second place in the UAA standings. The largest lead of the first half for either team came after Case Western went up 28-21 thanks to junior guard McKenna Gross making a free throw with 2:20 remaining in the second quarter. Emory junior guard Mariane Auza answered, though, with a jump shot and a free throw to close the gap to 28-24 before stealing the ball from Case Western sophomore guard Margaret Terry at the 30-second mark. Junior guard Claire Brock hit her first three-pointer with 23 seconds left, putting the score at 28-27.
The score remained tight throughout the third quarter, and despite a buzzer-beater layup from senior forward Tori Huggins, the Eagles trailed 42-41 entering the fourth quarter. Senior forward Anna Arato’s two free throws with 5:47 left in regulation put the Eagles ahead 50-49. Emory trailed by three with a minute-and-a-half to go until Auza made a layup and hit a free throw on the next possession to even the score at 55-55. Gross then missed what would have been the game-winning jump shot for Case Western, sending the game into overtime.
Although Brock made a layup to open the scoring, the Eagles were shut out until the 23-second mark, when sophomore guard Izzy Munson’s layup cut the gap to 68-59. Despite a last-second jump shot from senior guard Kennedy Cater, the Eagles simply ran out of time and fell to the Spartans 68-61. Arato and Auza tallied double-doubles, and Auza almost made it a triple-double with eight steals, the second-most in a single game in Emory history. Although the Eagles racked up 22 points from turnovers compared to the Spartans’ nine, they lost the shooting battle. Emory connected on only 9.1% of their three-point shots and on 32.9% of those from the field, while Case Western went 38.5% from three-point range and 41.1% from the field.
Against Carnegie Mellon, Emory raced to an early lead and never looked back. The 77-62 win was a true team effort, as 12 Eagles saw playing time and nine contributed baskets. Brock led the way with 15 points, Arato added 11 points and Huggins chipped in 10 points. The team forced 24 turnovers, which they converted into 21 points. Offensively, the bench players contributed 29 points, and the team racked up 19 assists en route to a 47.5 field goal percentage.
Both teams will wrap up their regular seasons as their final UAA matchup against the University of Rochester (N.Y.) approaches on Feb. 26. The men play at 5:30 and the women tip off at 7:30. A win for the women will give them sole possession of second place in the UAA standings and give them their best chance for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Claire Fenton (she/her) (24C) is a Pittsburgh native majoring in quantitative sciences on the Informatics track. She is also involved with Volunteer Emory and is a member of the women's club basketball team. You can find her reading Agatha Christie novels and training for a half marathon in her free time.