WHITTIER, Calif. (Jan. 6, 2015) – Sophomore Luke Lango (San Diego, Calif. / Pacific Ridge School) scored all 12 of his points in the final nine minutes of play to fuel an indomitable effort by the Caltech men's basketball team in the SCIAC opener at Whittier College on Tuesday night.
Caltech sprinted out of the gate but the host Poets surged ahead by halftime and clung to a 79-65 victory to improve to 7-4 overall and 1-1 in the conference, while the Beavers are now 1-9 (0-1). Whittier was helped immensely by an otherworldly 56 percent shooting on three-pointers, while Caltech won the rebounding battle (30-29) and shot an amazing 95 percent (19-of-20) from the free throw line.
"We are in a good spot as we open conference play," Eslinger said. "We executed what we talked about and worked on in practice early on. We got good minutes from a lot of guys, won the boards again and nailed our free throws, which will keep us in every conference game."
The Beavers nailed back-to-back three-pointers to set an early tone for the game as they took a 14-4 lead in the opening four minutes, punctuated by a big dunk and layup on consecutive possessions by sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha), who also kicked off the scoring with the first trey.
Whittier began to climb back into the mix, eventually rattling off 10 straight points to take an 18-17 lead at the 10:17 mark. The surge continued as the hosts built up a 20-point lead by halftime, scoring 11 unanswered points in the final 1:40 to go up 46-26 at the break.
The Poets extended the margin to a high of 32 with just over 12 minutes remaining, but Caltech finally recovered and bookended the game with a furious rally that, while ultimately falling short, saw the Beavers outscore the Poets, 39-33, over the second half. With Lango leading the charge alongside junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge), seniors Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) and Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) and freshman Ty Ochse (Tucson, Ariz./Canyon Del Oro) Caltech more than halved the deficit to a final of 14 in an unflinching display, earning 14 trips to the free throw line and shooting 5-of-9 to score 26 points in just over nine minutes down the stretch.
"I'm very proud of the way we finished the game – not just winning the second half, but the mentality we had to do it," Eslinger said. "Believing we weren't out of it and knowing we can score points in a hurry when we value the ball are exactly what will take us through conference play, where every game is going to be a battle."
Emezie led the team in scoring for the sixth time this season with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting (5-of-5 at the charity stripe) and added two blocks, while Lango was the only other Beaver in double figures with 12 points while dishing out three assists in just 20 minutes off the bench. Hogue topped the squad with seven rebounds and two steals as Joel and sophomore Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) each went 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, with Joel adding a team-best five assists.
Eslinger and the Beavers will look to bounce back as they host receiving-votes Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges (8-2, 1-0) on Thursday, Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m.