PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 17, 2015) – Junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) poured in another 22 points to lead the Caltech men's basketball team to a third straight home SCIAC win with a 70-69 victory over the University of La Verne on Tuesday night.
The three SCIAC wins mark the most in a single season since 1960-61, when the Beavers topped four conference foes, and now equal the total number of SCIAC wins over the previous 43 years.
Caltech came out narrowly ahead in a shooting frenzy, 54-53 percent from the field, and benefitted from an additional eight made free throws and +3 turnover margin, along with the first positive assist-to-turnover ratio of the season at 12:11.
"La Verne has a lot of fight – we knew it wasn't going to be easy, especially after going to double-overtime at their place a few weeks ago," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "We made it tougher by not closing it out down the stretch and especially knowing we are a great free throw shooting team, but the feeling was always that we were going to finish it. Guys were diving on the floor all night, out of bounds, into bleachers."
It was a tight battle in the early going as big men Niall Harrison and sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) dominated the offensive touches for both teams. La Verne took a brief lead at 8-6, but the Beavers soon rattled off nine unanswered points over a three-minute span to surge ahead, 17-12 at the 10:21 mark.
La Verne pulled back within a basket for the next four minutes, but a three-pointer by senior Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) keyed another seven straight points for the Beavers. Emezie sank a pair of free throws, then forced a steal at the other end and slammed down a dunk to punctuate the 28-20 lead with 5:07 left before halftime.
A layup and old-fashioned three-point play brought La Verne back within three, but Emezie struck right back with another layup. The Leopards finally tied things up at 32-32 thanks to another and-one with 40 seconds left in the half, but freshman Ty Ochse (Tucson, Ariz. / Canyon Del Oro) made a heads-up drive for the go-ahead layup to hand the Beavers a two-point lead at the break.
"Ty had a terrific rhythm tonight," Eslinger said. "He led us in rebounding in limited minutes and had some great scoring moves."
Senior Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) hit classmate Joel for a layup to open the second half, but La Verne knotted the game again at 36-36. A block by sophomore Nick Buoniconti (Orlando, Fla. / Lake Highland Prep) then fell to Joel, who hit Emezie way up court for the layup to put Caltech back on top, and the hosts did not let up after that. La Verne pulled back within one point at 40-39 with 16:01 remaining, but sophomore Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) drilled a three-pointer for some breathing room and Emezie and Hogue followed with six straight combined points.
A Leopards layup broke up a pair of three-minute-plus scoreless stretches, while Emezie led the Beavers in tacking on another nine straight points for the 12-point lead. Another La Verne layup brought the margin back to 10, but Emezie hit a layup while drawing a foul on another fast break, converting the and-one opportunity, and Joel knocked down a jumper to go ahead by 15. La Verne hit a three on the next possession, but sophomore Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) worked his way underneath for back-to-back layups to give his team the biggest lead of the game at 64-48 with 7:21 left to play.
After another Lee field goal and assist to sophomore David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker), La Verne staged a furious rally, holding the Beavers scoreless over the next five minutes. A series of turnovers and controversial foul calls allowed the Leopards to claw their way back within six by the 2:26 mark as the Beavers could not capitalize on a pair of single-bonus opportunities. An Emezie turnover at the one-minute mark threatened to allow La Verne the chance to pull back within a basket, but the wing came right back down on defense and laid out completely to tip away a pass to LeBaron.
Lee earned a trip to the line on the ensuing possession, which would prove critical as he hit the front end of the bonus to make it 69-62 with just 51 seconds remaining. Lee was whistled at the other end of the court, however, and 24-point scorer Hakim Arnold hit both free throws and a layup soon after to pull within three with 25 seconds left to play.
Joel was fouled after crossing halfcourt with 13 seconds left on the clock and nailed what would prove to be the game-winning free throw on the back end of the double bonus. The game was never quite in hand, though, as La Verne hoisted a trey to make it a one-point game and forced a jump ball to regain possession on the inbounds pass with five seconds to play. The Beavers defense locked down when it mattered most, though, not allowing the Leopards to get off a last-second prayer and sealing the victory."I definitely thought 'Oh, this can't be happening,' but then I reminded us to stay in the moment and just play each possession," Eslinger said.
Emezie's 22 points came on 8-of-13 shooting and marked his fifth game in double figures this season, while Lee added 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in just 13 minutes off the bench. Hogue posted a typical all-around line of nine points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals as Ochse grabbed a team-high seven rebounds in just 14 minutes and Buoniconti blocked a pair of shots.
"Our bench – wow, scoring 20 points, grabbing 11 boards and just one turnover between them," Eslinger mused. "I was so happy for Lawrence, he was really flowing on offense. Same with Nick, who was a big boost of defensive energy and toughness. Both their and Ty's parents came too, and LeBaron's dad, so all our bench guys who played had family there – that was so cool, and says something about our great level of support."
Eslinger and the Beavers will host Occidental College (10-13, 6-8) in the third installment of the 110 Freeway Rivalry on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. following the women's matchup. The Beavers will also be celebrating Senior Night as Hogue and Joel play the final home games of their careers.