PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 3, 2015) – Junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) hit the game-winning basket at the buzzer as the Caltech men's basketball team snapped a 55-game, four-year SCIAC losing streak with a 49-47 victory over the University of Redlands on Tuesday night.
"It just feels great, and to win a close one – a tough one – is even better," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "This means so much to so many people – our seniors, alumni, community, department and our really great fans and supporters who come out to every game and watch online. Our entire department has so much positive energy right now, with everyone working so hard and such a supportive administration. This is a true extended team win."
Caltech's last SCIAC win came on Feb. 22, 2011 in a season-ending 46-45 victory over 110 Freeway Rival Occidental College that broke the infamous NCAA-record 310-game losing streak dating back to 1985. The Beavers improve to 2-17 overall and 1-9 in SCIAC play, while Redlands drops to 5-14 (2-8).
After Redlands hit a game-tying three-pointer with 8.5 seconds remaining, the Beavers brought the ball up court and Emezie broke free from his man at the top of the arc with just four seconds to go. The team's leading scorer immediately drove to the right and lofted an underhand shot that banked off the glass and dropped into the net for the win.
"I just didn't want to go to another overtime," Eslinger said. "Somehow, I felt we would get a good shot, and the prep we've been doing, practicing end-game situations these past several weeks, paid off."
The Beavers defense was at its best all night, allowing a season-low 47 points as they held the Bulldogs to a meager 19 percent shooting in the first half and 26 percent for the game while the offense hit 38 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. Caltech overcame -5 rebound and -8 turnover margins as the quartet of Emezie, sophomore Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) and seniors Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) and Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) combined to score every point for the Beavers.
"We stuck to our game plan, put ourselves in good situations and were able to execute our defensive schemes and offensive spacing," Eslinger said.
Joel hit the offensive glass for a layup to start the scoring almost two full minutes into the game, and Emezie canned a three-pointer for the 5-2 lead at 16:31. Following a Galliani jumper to hold the three-point margin, the Beavers would go nearly seven minutes without a point as Redlands took a 10-7 lead.
Emezie nailed his second three to tie things up with 8:04 remaining in the first half and the senior duo of Hogue and Joel drilled back-to-back treys on each other's assists to send Caltech ahead 16-10. Hogue made it 18-10 coming out of a Redlands timeout at 5:57 and Galliani soon took the lead to double digits at 25-13 with 3:33 to go before halftime. The Bulldogs hit four free throws and held the Beavers scoreless down the stretch to trail 25-17 at the break.
"We went on that flurry when we made those threes – that's something we've been waiting for," Eslinger said. "And it all started with our defense."
Redlands trimmed the lead to six with the first bucket of the second half, but Emezie converted a three-point play and Joel hit another three to stretch it back out to 12 at 31-19 with 17:35 on the clock. The Bulldogs cut the margin back to single digits before Emezie made it 10 again, but Redlands would not be turned away. The visitors relentlessly fought their way back into the game, eventually racking up a 14-3 run that saw them take the lead at 37-36 with an even seven minutes left to play.
"Redlands was able to turn up its game and really played tough," Eslinger said. "They were great on the boards and in the full court. All credit to them – they stayed in it the whole way."
Joel earned a trip to the free throw line and sank both chances to regain the lead at 6:39, with Galliani extending it to 41-37 with his third trey in as many attempts. Emezie then took the game on his shoulders, scoring the Beavers' final eight points in the last five minutes. His first layup and one of several key blocks by sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) kept Caltech ahead by four at the five-minute mark, and the junior wing gave the hosts a six-point edge with a pair of free throws as the clock showed 3:49. Redlands pulled within one on a fast break three and two free throws, both coming directly off turnovers. Another Al-Rayes block gave Caltech the ball back, and Emezie sank a layup to make it a three-point game at 47-44 with 46 seconds remaining.
Redlands was able to get off two three-pointers on the next possession, but neither found its mark and Emezie was fouled with 17 seconds left to play. He missed the front end of the single bonus, however, to give Redlands one last chance. The Bulldogs capitalized, with Sean Milligan draining the game-tying three with 8.5 seconds on the clock.
The Bulldogs called a timeout to set their defense, but as Hogue brought the ball up court, Emezie shook free from his defender, took the ball with four seconds left and layed up the game-winner 0.7 seconds before time expired. Redlands' full-court inbounds pass found its mark, but the three-point attempt clanked off the backboard as the buzzer sounded.
"To get this one gives us confidence – lots of it," Eslinger said. "We are excited to get ready for the next one. We haven't been in this situation before, but this gives us a boost. We will prepare as we always do and use this as a springboard, but we've gotten over the toughest hump we had to face."
Emezie poured in 21 points – his third 20-point outburst of the season – on 8-of-13 shooting (2-of-2 on threes) and added five rebounds without missing a second of the game. Galliani netted 11 on 4-of-8 (3-of-3 beyond the arc) while Joel added 10 points. Hogue, the SCIAC's leading rebounder in conference play, pulled down another nine rebounds to go with a team-high four assists and seven points, with Al-Rayes, the SCIAC's leading shot blocker, turning aside a program-record-tying six shots, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out three assists.
Eslinger and the Beavers will host Whittier College (12-7, 6-4) on Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. looking to record a second SCIAC win in one season for the first time since the 1970-71 season, when they defeated Redlands and Claremont-Mudd Colleges.