Playing on the road for the final time this season, the Case Western Reserve University men's basketball team picked up its biggest win of the campaign, defeating the sixth-ranked University of Rochester Yellowjackets 76-72 in Rochester, New York on Sunday afternoon.
The win was the third in the last four games for the Spartans, who improved to 8-16 overall and 3-10 in the University Athletic Association. The win by CWRU also put an end to the Yellowjackets' bid for the 2017 UAA Championship, as the loss sent Rochester to 21-3 overall and to 10-3 in the UAA, two games behind conference champions Washington with one game remaining on the schedule.
Junior guard Colin Zucker led all players with a career-high 27 points on Sunday, making six of his 15 three point attempts during the game, one short of the school record, and matching his career-best with seven rebounds. Freshman forward Connor Nally tallied career-highs with 19 points, eight rebounds and five made threes on 11 attempts, and senior guard Javier Alvarez scored all 13 of his points in the second half, including a key three pointer with 3:05 remaining that gave the Spartans the lead for good, while adding a career-high seven rebounds, three assists and four steals.
The first half was an exhibition of contrasting styles between the two teams, with the Spartans making nine three-point shots during the first 20 minutes, while Rochester scored 31 of its 37 first half points in the paint or at the free throw line. Nally got the Spartans off to a quick start, hitting four three pointers in the first 3:08 of the game, and a layup off a steal by Zucker at the 16:37 mark gave the Spartans their largest lead of the first half, 14-6. The Yellowjackets battled back, taking their first lead of the game, 24-21, following back-to-back threes and a layup with 9:20 remaining. However, Zucker made four three pointers of his own down the stretch of the half, with the Spartans regaining a 35-31 lead on his fourth of the period with 5:03 left. Rochester went on 6-0 run to take the advantage back, but a pair of free throws from junior forward T.J. Duckett with six seconds left in the half tied the game at 37-37 heading into the break.
Nally finished the first half with 15 points, connecting on five of his 10 three-point attempts, while Zucker scored 14 points on a four-of-nine long range shooting performance during the first 20 minutes.
The Spartans took a six-point lead, 48-42, with 16:56 to play after a layup by Zucker, but an 8-0 run put Rochester back out in front 50-48 with 14:19 remaining. The two teams went back-and-forth for the remainder of the half, with the score tied on nine occasions and the lead changing hands seven times. A three by the Yellowjackets put the team out in front 72-70 with 3:23 left in the game, but the Spartans defense would lock-in from that point forward, holding Rochester scoreless on an 0-for-5 shooting performance from the floor down the stretch. Alvarez's clutch three with 3:05 remaining put CWRU back out in front, and a layup after an offensive rebound by Nally extended the lead to 75-72 with 2:30 to play. The Spartans were able to take over a minute off the clock with the help of two Rochester fouls and an offensive rebound by Zucker, and Zucker made a free throw with 17 seconds remaining to put the game out of reach for the Yellowjackets.
Sunday's win marked the Spartans' first against a ranked opponent since defeating Washington, then ranked seventh in Division III, on February 1, 2015. Prior to that, the Spartans had picked up a win over Rochester during the 2013 season when the Yellowjackets were also ranked sixth among Division III teams.
Jacob Wittig led Rochester with 20 points, while Zack Ayers added 16, Sam Borst-Smith scored 14, and Ryan Clamage finished with 11 for the Yellowjackets on Sunday.
The Spartans will wrap-up their season at home next weekend, returning to Cleveland to host Carnegie Mellon University on Saturday, February 25th at 5:00 p.m. Next Saturday's game will also be 'Senior Day' for Case Western Reserve, as the Spartans will honor its lone senior player, Javier Alvarez, prior to the start of the contest.