It’s a slam dunk!
For the first time in school history, the Carnegie Mellon men’s basketball team won the UAA conference championship and received an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs by defeating conference rival Rochester 78–68 on Saturday. This marks only the second time in school history that the team has gone to the NCAA Tournament; the last berth came in 1977.
In front of a packed crowd at Skibo Gymnasium, the Tartans started off by honoring the team’s five seniors and their parents on Senior Day. Rachel Gross, the Tartans’ senior scorebook keeper and the singer of the national anthem and “God Bless America,” was also honored for her contributions to the team over the years.
The opening minutes of the game saw the two teams battling to take control with neither team gaining a significant lead. However, the Tartans went on a 13–2 run, capped off by an emphatic dunk by senior Bary Dunn, to take an 18–11 lead. The Tartan men would never relinquish their lead, as they finished the first half shooting 50 percent from the field, including 7 of 11 three-pointers, to take a 43–26 lead at the end of the half.
The Tartans continued to pour it on in the second half, leading by as much as 24. Despite the strong second-half performance by Rochester center Jon Onyiriuka, who scored 18 of his team-high 31 points in the second half, Rochester wasn’t able to cut the lead to less than nine points.
As time expired, the crowd at Skibo Gymnasium gave their team a standing ovation to a historical season that has seen an upset victory over Princeton and the Tartans’ first 20-win season in school history. The team celebrated by spraying water into the air and cutting down the nets.
“It was a big game for us, not only because it was for the conference title, but also because it was Senior Day and we wanted to get these guys a win,” said sophomore guard Geoff Kozak. “And today, the seniors led us to victory.”
Senior Nate Maurer led the Tartans with 16 points. All the Tartan seniors contributed in the game, combining to score 63 of the team’s 78 points — including 14 from Dunn, who shot six of seven from the field. Senior and co-captain Clayton Barlow-Wilcox chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds, giving him 599 rebounds for his career. Marques Johnson had eight points, five rebounds, and five assists, while co-captain A.J. Straub scored 13 points, including three baskets from behind the arc. Straub extended his school record to 28 straight games with a three-pointer, which dates back to last season.
“It was a great way for us to end the regular season,” said Straub. “To win it all in front of the home crowd on Senior Day means a lot.”
The Tartans must now wait to see who and where they will play in the NCAA Division III Tournament. The information will be released today, and the team could be in action Thursday or Friday.
“We worked hard all season to finish as conference champions,” said Barlow-Wilcox. “But now we have to work even harder as we go into tournament play.”