PASADENA, Calif. (Dec. 18, 2014) – A full team effort highlighted by numerous individual performances led the Caltech men's basketball team to its first victory of the season, 72-68 over Mount Aloysius College in a third straight overtime game on Thursday night.
The Beavers set season-high marks in rebounds (both offensive and defensive), assists and blocks while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent beyond the arc to outweigh a season-high 28 turnovers. Caltech improves to 1-7 while Mt. Aloysius drops to 4-6.
"We came in feeling like we matched up well and having confidence in what we were doing on offense," Head Coach Oliver Eslinger said. "Most of all, there was an aura of confidence among the staff and players that we just knew we would find a way."
As has been the case all season, Caltech jumped out to the early lead as senior Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) hit the first of his four three-pointers on the evening. Mt. Aloysius tied things up at 6-6 but the Beavers defense locked down after that, holding the Mounties scoreless over four minutes and allowing just a single free throw over the next three to maintain a slight edge. Some cold shooting of their own limited the Beavers over the same stretch, but after a Mounties trey tied the game at 14-14 with 7:35 left in the first half, Caltech was able to create some breathing room with a 9-5 run to end the half up 23-19.
Mt. Aloysius quickly evened things up in the second half and took its first lead since scoring the first point of the game at the 19:10 mark, but the Beavers responded in a big way. Sophomore Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) hit back-to-back shots to regain the lead, junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) came up with a steal and sank one of two free throws on the next possession and Joel drilled a trey courtesy of Lee's assist over just 1:15 of action to form the largest margin of the game at seven (36-29).
The Mounties would not bow out yet, again taking a one-point lead of their own before sophomore Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) converted a three-point play and Joel nailed yet another trey for the five-point lead at 43-38 with 8:52 remaining in the game. Nolan Doyle continued to wreak havoc for Mt. Aloysius as the Mounties fought right back into the mix, though, tying the game again at 47-47. Six straight free throw makes turned the momentum back in Caltech's favor, and the Beavers looked well on their way to sealing the win with a six-point edge at 53-47 with 4:45 to go.
Mt. Aloysius's Dillon Bender started to find his stroke, however, hitting a layup and three-pointer on the second chance opportunity on consecutive possessions to bring the Mounties back within one with 2:47 remaining. Sophomore Luke Lango (San Diego, Calif. / Pacific Ridge School) hit a trademark pullup jumper to make it a three-point game, but Mt. Aloysius came right back with a layup at the 2:09 mark. Emezie was able to get to the line following an offensive rebound, but hit only one of the two free throws and Mt. Aloysius sent the game to overtime on another second-chance basket with 45 seconds left to play, as Lango's pair of jumpers on the Beavers' final possession did not find their mark.
"When regulation ended, I thought, 'Wow, really, another overtime?'" Eslinger said. "I told the guys before the tip that we sure know how to play it, though, and felt confident in our ability to manage it. They laughed, and took care of business."
On the first possession in overtime, the Beavers found themselves staring down the shot clock as no one could find any space for a shot until senior Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) found Galliani on a backdoor cut right beneath the basket for the opening score. A pair of free throws by sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) and a Hogue free throw later, Caltech was ahead by five at 65-60 with 3:34 remaining in the game.
Of course, Bender was freed up to drill another three and drew a foul on another long range attempt on the next possession, hitting all three to send Mt. Aloysius ahead, 66-65 at the 2:43 mark. A Joel three-pointer was off the mark on the Beavers' next possession, but Emezie got a hand on the offensive glass to tip the ball to Al-Rayes, who finished through the traffic to regain the lead. Another offensive rebound on the ensuing Caltech possession put Al-Rayes at the free throw line, where he hit one of two to make it a two-point game. Hogue hit the deck to force a turnover on the Mounties' next possession, and Joel came through in the clutch to ice the game with a three-pointer that brought the gym to its feet as Caltech led, 71-66, with just 52 seconds left to play. Mt. Aloysius hit a quick layup but was unable to get anything else as Lango put the game out of reach on the second of two free throw attempts.
"It was a huge relief to know we could get it done in what really wasn't the best game," Eslinger said. "There were a lot of fouls and turnovers on both sides, but we made huge plays – as we have in other games too – and tonight, even though it was tough and close all the way, there was a look in the players' eyes that we were doing it tonight."
Emezie led the Beavers with 14 points, including going 8-of-10 at the charity stripe, while Joel netted all 12 of his points on three-pointers (4-of-9) and added four rebounds, three assists and four steals. Sophomore David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) recorded his first double-figure scoring game of the season and the fifth of his career with 11 points in just 20 minutes on 5-of-10 shooting and chipped in seven rebounds. Hogue posted an enviable all-around line of seven points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks while Al-Rayes finished with seven points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.
"The seniors really stepped up and led, as they have all season," Eslinger said. "Nasser was huge down the stretch in particular, but it was really a great game for everyone – a true team win. This is huge going into the break – a great holiday gift that lets us take a few days while in a good spot mentally."
Eslinger and the Beavers can enjoy the taste of victory over their two-week break for Winter Recess, after which they return to host Oberlin College (5-4) on Friday, Jan. 2.