PASADENA, Calif. (Jan. 13, 2015) – Sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) led the Caltech men's basketball team with his second double-double of the season as the Beavers hung with California Lutheran University, which received a vote in the D3hoops.com ranking, until midway through the second half on Tuesday night.
"Cal Lu is a good, tough team and we showed a lot of fight tonight," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "That was our best game of the year. The score doesn't look like it after they got hot at the end, but even that really came down to them making more threes on great looks. I told the guys, sometimes you can do a lot right and still not come out on top; but this was a huge step for us."
Caltech created six more shots than Cal Lutheran while posting a +6 rebound margin, but the Kingsmen outshot the Beavers 52-36 percent from the field, 33-13 beyond the arc and 79-71 at the free throw line to leave with a hard-fought 77-56 win. Cal Lutheran improves to 10-2 overall and stays perfect in SCIAC play at 4-0 while Caltech is now 1-12 (0-4).
"I loved our effort and how we executed our gameplan," Eslinger said. "We got off more shots than them, won on the boards again and forced turnovers. Plus we had some high-energy plays with Nasser's tip jam to end the half and a Kc dunk in traffic!"
The Beavers suffered an early bad break as senior Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) exited the game with an injury less than two minutes into play. Cal Lutheran took advantage as Caltech regrouped, going up 8-2 at the 16:14 mark. The Beavers responded by scoring seven straight points on their next three shots, including a three-point play by Al-Rayes, to take a one-point lead at 9-8 after the first five minutes.
Cal Lutheran regained the lead and extended it to 17 at 32-15 with 7:30 left in the half, but Al-Rayes threw down a jam to kick off an 8-2 run to trim the margin back to 11. The Kingsmen added six more points to go back up by 17 just 2:56 before the break, but the Beavers locked down on defense to hold them scoreless while notching six of their own, punctuated by a flying put-back dunk by Al-Rayes at the buzzer to send Caltech into the locker room with the momentum firmly in hand despite Cal Lutheran leading 40-29.
After trading baskets over the first five minutes coming out of the break, junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) took over, scoring the Beavers' next eight points himself and punctuating the run with a dunk to bring Caltech within seven at 52-45 with 11:30 left to play.
The Kingsmen flirted with a double-digit lead over the following five minutes before hitting six of seven shots down the stretch to outdistance the Beavers despite a pair of late three-pointers.
Emezie asserted himself with a season-high 18 shots, leading all scorers with 18 points and completing an all-around line with six rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block. Al-Rayes scored 13 points, grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds and blocked four shots for the second time this year while sophomore Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) continued his recent resurgence, netting nine and grabbing six boards in 22 minutes.
"We received contributions from everyone tonight, which was especially important and good to see with Joel going out," Eslinger said. "He's usually our stabilizing force, but we banded together today and everyone led, including Joel from the bench. We were all very proud of what we did today."
Eslinger and the Beavers will host undefeated No. 20 Chapman University (13-0, 4-0) on Saturday, Jan. 17 at 7:00 p.m. following the women's matchup.