ROCHESTER, NY – After a quick start, the University of Rochester men's basketball team held visiting Union College at bay, earning an 82-60 win in the 2nd round of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament on Saturday night at the Louis Alexander Palestra.
The #13 ranked Yellowackets (23-4) answered every run the Dutchmen (17-11) threw at them, especially in the second half when Union cut the lead down to seven with under six and half minutes to play. Rochester responded with a huge 15-0 run down the stretch to seal the victory and its 11th trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 in program history, and first since the 2010-11 season.
UR was led by senior Zack Ayers who scored a career-high 26 points on 10-13 shooting, including going 3-5 from behind the arc. Sophomore Jacob Wittig had a superb all-around performance, scoring 13 points while dishing out 10 assists and grabbing six rebounds, adding a 3-3 mark from 3-point range. Senior's Sam Borst-Smith and Mack Montague each had 10 points as well.
"I was able to take advantage of the way they were guarding me," said Ayers who scored seven of the 15 points in the Rochester run to put the game away. "But a lot of credit goes to my teammates as well, they set me up for some great scoring chances."
The Dutchmen were led by senior Deshon Burgess who was the regionals leading scorer with 23 points on Saturday after scoring 30 in Union's first round win on Friday. Greg King chipped in 12 points while Wade McNamara added five points and nine rebounds for the Dutchmen.
Union scored the opening bucket of the contest, but Rochester quickly took the lead after 3-pointers from Borst-Smith and Ayers, and never looked back the rest of the way.
"It was a slow start for both teams," explained Rochester head coach Luke Flockerzi, "but we found our high level pretty quickly."
An 11-0 spurt, eight points which belonged to Wittig, then built the Yellowjackets lead out to 13 under nine minutes into the game.
"I wanted to come out with a high level of energy," said the sophomore guard. "I ended up being aggressive early on, that sets up everyone else for the rest of the game."
The remainder of the first half, the teams would trade buckets, with the Yellowjackets not allowing Union back in it, answering every score with one of their own. At intermission, UR held a 12-point lead, sitting up 34-22.
A quick 9-2 burst to begin the second half built the Rochester lead to 19 points with 17:21 to play.
Union then began to get their offense in rhythm, going on a 10-4 run, bookended by 3-pointers from Burgess and Garrett Johnson to cut the lead to 13.
Rochester would then build its edge back up to 17 with 12 minutes left on the clock, but Union refused to go away, scoring 20 of the next 30 points to trim the lead to seven with 6:29 remaining. King scored 10 of his 12 points in the five and half minute run, while Burgess added eight, including two 3-pointers.
"We stuck around and kept fighting," said Union head coach Chris Murphy. "But Rochester is a great team, if you lose focus for a second, they will score on you. You have to be almost perfect to beat them."
The Yellowjackets will now move on to the Sweet 16 and will turn their attention to #7 Marietta College who defeated Guilford 88-64 on Saturday in the second round. The site is to be determined by the NCAA early next week.
When asked about his next opponent, Flockerzi said, "We are just grateful to have the opportunity to play into March this much longer."