Last week started out no differently than any other had this season for the Roosevelt University Men’s Basketball team.
The Lakers thumped yet another opponent, Trinity Christian College, on Tuesday night in Palos Heights, Ill. by a score of 85-75 to remain unbeaten on the year. With the win, the Lakers improved to 7-0, good enough for first place in the North Division of the Chicago Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC).
But what may have been more impressive than the team’s latest win, is how the team accomplished the feat while playing shorthanded. Starting 6-foot-6 forward and Lakers’ leading rebounder, Jeremiah Jackson, missed the game due to an illness; the same went for 6-foot-5 forward, Mykyta Chesko. Despite the lack of size, Roosevelt managed to grind out another victory.
“That was a great team win,” said Joe Griffin, Roosevelt University Men’s Basketball Head Coach.
In addition, it was some of the team’s younger players who delivered clutch performances to remain perfect on the year. Sophomore forward Kevin Priebe scored a game-high 23 points, shooting 4-of-8 from 3-point range.
“Kevin is a multi-dimensional player, he can score inside and out,” said Griffin.
Not to be outdone, freshman phenom Korey Ryan drilled 5 3-pointers of his own, and has nailed 21 triples overall this season.
But it was the intangibles in Ryan’s play that impressed Griffin more than his sharpshooting capabilities.
“He (Ryan) made a great hustle play (deflecting the ball off a Trinity defender)…that proved to be a huge turning point in the game for us,” said Griffin.
After the win, the team was sitting pretty heading into its Thanksgiving holiday break. Roosevelt’s next game wasn’t slated until Saturday against Saint Ambrose (Davenport, IA) at the Lillian and Larry Goodman Center in Downtown Chicago.
And that’s when the week that started off so promising took a turn for the worse.
The Lakers were handed its first loss of the season in an overtime thriller to the Saint Ambrose Fighting Bees, 90-86.
Perhaps it was a “holiday hangover,” or, that the team was still battling the lingering effects of a ‘bug’ that had spread throughout the team in previous weeks. But come tipoff on Saturday against Saint Ambrose, The Lakers didn’t resemble the team that had zipped out to seven consecutive wins to start the season.
“They (players) had two days off over the holidays,” said Griffin.” It (time off) was definitely a factor in the game and that’s my fault.”
The Lakers appeared to be a shell of their former selves on defense in the first half. Entering the contest, Roosevelt had allowed 64 points a game on average to their opponents— Saint Ambrose had 47 in the first half alone.
That did not make Griffin a happy camper.
“Our defense is inexcusable…we have got to toughen up (in the second half),” Griffin said during intermission.
To the average bystander, it appeared as if the Lakers responded defensively after halftime, limiting The Fighting Bees to 26 points the entire second half. And with just 28 seconds left to play, The Lakers tied the game at 73 apiece on a Joe Harks (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) jumper that forced overtime.
“Coach emphasized help defense,” Priebe said. “They were driving too easily in the lanes so we tried to muddy that up.”
However, Griffin viewed his team’s defensive performance a bit differently.
“Our transition defense was bad, we looked slow, we looked out of shape,” Griffin said.
For the second straight game, Priebe was a force to be reckoned with, scoring 28 points in the loss. He and Harks led the charge in overtime as the two accounted for all 13 points the Lakers scored in the extra period.
With 65 seconds left, it appeared as if Roosevelt would remain undefeated after Harks sank three free throws that put the team ahead, 86-81.
But in a blink of an eye, the lead evaporated.
The Lakers got sloppy with their execution as Saint Ambrose put on their press and subsequently turned the ball over twice in a row, leading to two Fighting Bees’ buckets that would put them ahead for good, 87-86.
Still, Roosevelt had their chances down the stretch with a little more than 30 seconds remaining. But a questionable charging violation call against Harks, followed by a questionable jump ball turnover whistled on Lakers’ point guard Tyree York, dashed any hopes of forcing double overtime.
“Give Saint Ambrose credit, they took some chances, they got some steals,” said Griffin. “It was like watching a movie; it was the worst way to lose.”
Roosevelt will try to rebound and get back to their winning ways against Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin early this week, and when they they host Indiana University Northwest on Friday night at the Lillian and Larry Goodman Center.