Photo by Bob Palermini
LOS ANGELES (Jan. 9, 2016) – An already-historic season became that much more so as the Caltech men's basketball team topped Occidental College, 62-48, on the road to take sole possession of first place in the SCIAC on Saturday night.
Squaring off as two of three teams tied atop the conference standings at 2-0, the Beavers outshot the Tigers, 41 to 31 percent from the field, and posted a +8 rebound margin to match the best start to conference play in program history, which came in the 1944-45 season. Caltech improves to 5-7 overall and a perfect 3-0 in the SCIAC this season, while the Tigers drop to 7-4 and fall into a three-way tie for third place at 2-1.
"We're all glad we can be a part of this, 3-0 and leading the conference – we're making people proud," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "Those are the outcomes of really hard work, from the players every day in practice to the assistants coming up with great ideas and everything being put into action. We have such awesome fans too – another really great crowd, and on the road, that provided us with a big boost. Three-game weeks are tough – they helped us through it."
The Beavers have now won their last four games against SCIAC opponents, including the season-opener at Oxy – which had not happened since 1944-45– and are 7-4 over their past 11 dating back to last February.
"Once again, a terrific team effort," Eslinger said. "We executed our schemes and were all locked in. Big credit to both our starters and reinforcements – every single person on this team does the work in practice needed to prepare us for each game."
Oxy gained the early edge as Spencer Levy drilled two three-pointers to go up 12-4 over the opening seven minutes, but Caltech outscored the hosts by 22 over the next 33 minutes to record the decisive victory. Sophomore David Kawashima (Studio City, Calif. / North Hollywood) knocked down his fourth consecutive three-point attempt in as many games to key a run of 14 unanswered points over a six-minute span.
The Tigers recovered to tie the game at 18-18, but junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) came up with an old-fashioned three-point play to stake the Beavers to a 21-18 edge with 1:46 left in the half. That margin held as the teams traded baskets until halftime, when Caltech led 25-22.
"We wanted to win the first half tonight, so we hit one of our goals there," Eslinger said.
Oxy would net the first points of the second half to pull within one, but senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) earned a trip to the line and hit both free throws before dishing to junior Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) in the corner, who nailed a three to extend the margin to six at 30-24. The hosts made one final push to get back into the game, clawing back to a one-basket game at 32-30 with 14:45 remaining, before Caltech took complete control.
"Once Kc started to get going, we saw that look in his eyes and it was his time," Eslinger said.
Another three-point play from Al-Rayes outpaced a jumper from Oxy and the Beavers were off to the races, with Emezie rolling in a pair of extremely difficult layups to take the margin to nine. Al-Rayes and Lee sank two free throws apiece and Al-Rayes then hit a hook shot to extend the lead to double digits for the first time at 48-37 with 5:44 left to play. Emezie soon fought his way to another gravity-defying layup as he hit the deck while moving away from the basket. Junior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) got the ball beyond the arc on the next possession, gave a slight pump-fake as if to pass and pulled up to drain a trey that made it 54-40, immediately followed by another Emezie layup for a 16-point edge at 2:43. Jay Miller would net eight points over the final minutes in a valiant effort for Oxy, but the lead was never in doubt and the Beavers left Eagle Rock at the top of the SCIAC standings.
"We figured it would be a low-scoring game, but our defense has really been powering us all season," Eslinger said. "We know we have to value the ball too. We started off with a couple quick turnovers but after that, committed only six."
Emezie and Al-Rayes led the Beavers with 15 points apiece, with Emezie's coming on 5-for-9 shooting from the field and 1-for-2 from long range. Lee added 12 points, going 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, while Galliani chipped in seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.
"After three games in six days, we're glad to have a day off tomorrow," Eslinger said. "Then we will all get back at it for this next home game."
Eslinger and the Beavers will look to maintain their top billing as they host defending tri-champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges (5-6, 0-3) on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The game will be available online via livestream and livestats, both which can be accessed from the team's schedule page at GoCaltech.com.