PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 20, 2016) – Senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) and junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) each dropped a team-high 16 points as Caltech men's basketball matched SCIAC champion Chapman University point-for-point until the final whistle, coming up just short in a 64-62 nail-biter on Saturday night.
"Tonight's game was the ultimate example of what our athletics program can do," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "We are experiencing an incredible evolution within all of our programs. The crowd tonight was absolutely phenomenal and the standing ovation at the end was a moment we will never forget."
Caltech did everything right to earn the victory, but a significant free throw advantage (11-of-15 to 4-of-6) and a pair of late tip-ins and lifted Chapman to the win. The defeat clinches the SCIAC title outright for Chapman, while Caltech is still in a three-way tie for the #4 seed with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges and the University of La Verne. A breakdown of the Beavers' scenarios for qualification can be found here.
The game doubled as Senior Night for Emezie and classmate Robert Anderson (Orono, Minn. / Orono). Both end their home careers having made significant impacts on the men's basketball program over their four years.
"I'm very proud of Rob and Kc for how they played with poise on an emotional evening," Eslinger said. "They have been tremendous members of this team in their four years and it has been a real pleasure to coach them both."
The stands were full for the much-anticipated game against the newly crowned SCIAC champions. Caltech started off slow, trailing the Panthers 8-2 early in the first half, but an aggressive layup from Emezie and a three-pointer by Al-Rayes pulled the Beavers right back into within one point. The raucous crowd was fully invested in the game as both teams matched almost basket-for-basket in a thoroughly well-played performance. Chapman led by three at the 5:40 mark when a driving Panther was met at the rim by Emezie, who blocked his layup off the glass, came down with the rebound and dished up-court to freshman Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / St. Margaret's), where the rookie nailed a dagger three to tie the game at 23-23.
With momentum on their side, the Beavers hit two more treys to take a four-point lead at 29-25 with 2:53 left in the half. Chapman refused to allow the margin to stretch any further, however, and finished the half strong to regain the lead, 32-31, at the half.
The second half was just as intense as the first, with the foes continuing to trade baskets in a one-possession game until Chapman went ahead by four at 41-37 with 14:20 remaining. Junior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) drilled a three-pointer to bring Caltech back within one and Al-Rayes tied it up at 42-42 two minutes later. Emezie then sent the Beavers back in front with a free throw and five lead changes later, the score was knotted at 49-49 with 6:39 remaining.
Another three ties ensued, after which Caltech took its final lead at 57-55 on a second-chance layup by Emezie with 2:45 left to play. Chapman got a tip-in to tie on the next possession and Galliani was called for a blocking foul to the fans' dismay, leading to a pair of Panthers free throws to move in front with 2:05 remaining. A Caltech three-point attempt clanged off the iron and Emezie grabbed the board but was stripped, giving the ball back to Chapman. Another offensive tip-in gave the Panthers a four-point lead as the clock ticked under one minute and Chapman hit the necessary free throws to maintain the edge despite an and-one conversion from Emezie to cut it to three and a Cahill layup as time expired.
"It was a great basketball game," Eslinger said. "We played with precision and everyone chipped in."
Emezie finished his last home game with 16 points on 64 percent shooting and four rebounds. Al-Rayes finished with 16 points, five rebounds, four blocks and three assists while junior David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) contributed six points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. Cahill poured in 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting (2-for-3 beyond the arc) in just 20 minutes off the bench and Galliani chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
Eslinger and the Beavers will travel to Pomona-Pitzer Colleges (11-12, 6-9) still with a SCIAC Tournament bid on the line this Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 5 p.m.