PASADENA (Dec. 17, 2018) – The Caltech men's basketball team proved once again it could execute in the face of adversity, taking down Principia College, 74-72 in overtime. Now sitting at 4-2, this year marks the best start to a season for the Beavers since the 2011-12 season, a then turning point for the team under Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger.
Caltech found itself in familiar territory to last Saturday when they outdueled the University of California Santa Cruz. This time, the Beavers came from behind to force overtime thanks to a layup from freshman guard Noah Barnes (Springfield, Va. / Jefferson). Trailing once again in the extra period, Caltech went on to trade leads before sophomore guard Gokul Srinivasaragavan (San Ramon, Calif. / Dougherty Valley) made the winning layup following a near-perfect pass from sophomore forward Spencer Schneider (Houston, Texas / Clearbrook). However, the Beavers still needed to close the game with one more defensive stop in order to walk away with their second victory in the previous three days. As they have in three other instances this season, the host Beavers buckled down, and junior guard Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom), tasked with locking down one of the Panthers' two star guards came up with the rejection, leaving the visitors with just three-tenths of a second to attempt a game-tying tip-in that ended up being all for naught.
"We knew they needed two points to tie and three to win on that last possession and I was banking on my man looking for an outside shot, as he had done all night," Andrews said. "I just stayed really tight with him the whole way, but you also don't want to foul a guy in that situation. I kept my hands up and waited for him to do something and thankfully we got the stop."
Six games into the season, the Beavers are undefeated in games decided by three points or fewer, coming off a year where they did pick up a four-point win in conference play but otherwise went 0-2 in three-point games or less and 1-3 in overtime games. In the case of Monday's game, a torrid first-half shooting pace gave the home team the confidence they needed to pull out the victory. Freshman guard Stephen Hei (Newcastle, Wash. / Liberty) scored all 12 of his points in the first half, trading deep shot for deep shot with the Panthers between the fourth and eighth minutes of the half. Schneider, who led the home team with 22 points on 50-percent shooting, scored 13 in the first half. Andrews meanwhile provided as much support throughout the game as anyone, scoring 16 points and assisting on eight baskets while leading the Caltech defense with four steals. The strong first half amounted to 45 points and a three-point lead, the Beavers' strongest first-half showing on the young season.
"Staying poised is something that coach preaches to us all the time," junior guard Aaron Ayres (Tucson, Ariz. / Catalina Foothills) said, who gave his team five rebounds off the bench. "Staying poised means not losing ourselves and I think we're still clearly working on that. It's not just about the end of games. We also had the big run early and let them chop back into it, but I think the team has progressed so much in my time here. We just need to keep our composure and stay focused."
Caltech counteracted Principia's tenacity with its scoring depth. While the Panthers received all but 10 of their points from two players, eight different players scored for the Beavers, with four finding their way into double-figures. Additionally, a sharp focus and emphasis on taking care of the basketball have Caltech in a good place right now. The home team not only won the turnover battle for a second consecutive game, but they also turned the ball over just eight times to their opponent's 16 and is well on pace to shatter the record for its best ball-handling year under Eslinger's watch.
"We got a lot of support from our reinforcements as we like to call them," Eslinger said. "Our reinforcements all came in and gave us something, whether it was Aaron with his energy and strength or Stephen's shooting, Gokul's ability to run the offense or Riley getting us some big stops defensively. This is a group that is committed to getting better, and of course part of that means taking better care of the ball. The other part of that is believing in each other and unselfishness in the stats."
Eslinger and the Beavers will continue their season at home against Hanover College on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m., when they will look to make it three consecutive victories.