Photo by Michael Wong
PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 7, 2015) – Just days after shaking off a 55-game SCIAC losing streak, the Caltech men's basketball team accomplished something it had not in 44 years – winning two SCIAC games in one season – with a 92-77 victory over Whittier College on Saturday night.
"This one was down to the entire team's effort and execution," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "There were a number of spectacular plays but all in all we just stuck to our game plan."
Sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) exploded for a 22-12-6-6 line and senior Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) also flirted with a triple-double (14-12-6) as the Beavers made a statement with their first back-to-back SCIAC wins since the 1953-54 season, when they won three straight to claim the SCIAC Championship. Caltech also recorded consecutive victories in SCIAC play in 1960-61, although there was a non-conference loss between them.
"It is hard to guess at what we are really capable of because this is such new territory," Eslinger said. "We envision where we want to be and go, but we are really just going to keep working and preparing like always."
Caltech outshot Whittier 52-38 percent from the field while hitting a season-high 11 three-pointers at a season-best 44-percent clip and posting a phenomenal +18 rebound margin. The Beavers improve to 3-17 overall and 2-9 in the SCIAC, while Whittier drops to 12-8 (6-5).
The Poets jumped out to a 14-6 lead just over five minutes into play, with Al-Rayes scoring all six of the Beavers' points. Caltech turned up the heat with a three-pointer by sophomore Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) and an Al-Rayes layup to cut it back to a one-basket game. The Beavers still found themselves trailing 25-20 with 8:52 on the clock, but that is when the dam broke open.
Caltech scored the next 10 points in less than three minutes to surge ahead, 30-25. After a Whittier jumper made it a one-basket game, junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) extended the margin back to five, but the Poets kept pushing relentlessly. They hit consecutive layups to pull back within one point at 32-31 before Al-Rayes altered a shot on the defensive end and Hogue drew a foul at the other, taking the lead back to three. Whittier tied things up at 34-34 on a Nick Demusis trey, but just as the Poets were threatening to make a trademark run to end the half, Caltech cranked things up a notch.
Hogue banked in a deep three-pointer as the shot clock expired on the next possession to give the Beavers a lead they would never relinquish. Al-Rayes added a layup on a quick spin move in the post and tipped in another with 33 seconds left, but Whittier did not hold the ball for the final shot and allowed the Beavers to counter in the final seconds, with Emezie hitting the fast break layup to put Caltech up 43-34 at halftime.
"It wasn't a single moment where we pulled ahead so much as we had several minutes of terrific defense and we just kept scoring," Eslinger said. "And we are certainly a team that can do that."
Caltech was not about to let up coming out of the break. Al-Rayes blocked the Poets' first look and Emezie and senior Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) soon made it a 14-point game at 48-34 with 18:24 on the clock. Joel kept the hot hand, nailing two more threes preceding Galliani's second for a game-high 21-point lead at 14:51.
The Poets trimmed the deficit back to 14, but the Beavers kept firing, immediately going back ahead by 21 with 12:00 remaining. Whittier made yet another push over the next three minutes, trimming the margin to 13 at 69-56, but Al-Rayes was in the zone and rattled off the next six points himself to keep Caltech well ahead.
Whittier made its final charge with an eight-point flurry to threaten to bring the margin down to single digits, but Galliani put a stop to the rally with a dagger three-pointer at the 4:35 mark, forcing the Poets to foul the rest of the way. They would cut the deficit as low as 12 with 1:58 left to play, but the Beavers held firm to post the 15-point victory.
"Whittier is a high-pace team, which leads to a lot of possessions, so I never felt like it was over until the horn went," Eslinger said. "I knew we were in a good spot when they started to foul us. We had command of the game and we had a couple timeouts left."
Al-Rayes notched a quartet of career highs in the dominant performance, scoring a game-high 22 points on 10-of-19 shooting and completing his fourth double-double with 12 rebounds while adding six assists and matching Tuesday's six blocks. Hogue scored 14 points, hitting 2-of-3 treys and 8-of-9 free throws, and grabbed 12 rebounds while dishing out six assists. Joel chipped in 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc and added eight rebounds and five assists, with Emezie (7-of-14) and Galliani (3-of-6 long range) netting 15 and 13 points, respectively. Sophomore David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) contributed seven points and three rebounds in 21 minutes coming off the bench.
"These two wins are big for us, big for our Caltech community and big for the department," Eslinger said. "Still, we want to stay even-keeled and continue to progress."
Eslinger and the Beavers will look to keep their streak going on Thursday, Feb. 12 against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges (14-5, 7-3) at the Pomona-Pitzer Rains Center.