LA VERNE, Calif. (Jan. 24, 2015) – Sophomore Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) recorded his third double-double and paired with junior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) to carry the Caltech men's basketball team in a double-overtime defeat at the University of La Verne on Saturday evening.
"I can't say enough about this group coming together the last couple of weeks," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "It's really a sight to see and all of Caltech should be proud of what this team is doing. Thanks to all the students for coming out to the game, they helped us tremendously and boosted our energy – they're awesome!"
The Beavers held leads late in regulation and to open both overtime periods, but the Leopards rallied thrice to defend their home court. La Verne improves to 6-10 overall and 2-6 in the SCIAC, while Caltech drops to 1-15 (0-7) on the season, which now includes four overtime games and six extra periods in total.
Caltech nearly overcame a dismal 29-percent shooting from the field and 11-percent mark from long range as the defense held La Verne to just 33 and 19 percent, respectively, resulting in a season-low 44 points. The Beavers committed a season-low 12 turnovers across the 50 minutes of play, but the Leopards posted a 15-6 edge in scoring off turnovers and 8-0 mark on the fast break to help make up their six-rebound deficit (49-43).
"We played a terrific game and made it come down to making plays and shots – that's the sign of a good team," Eslinger said. "We did a good job getting into our offensive sets and putting the ball in good hands for the scenarios. We defended our tails off, won the boards again, and had single-digit turnovers in regulation. We didn't shoot well from the field, but we converted free throws, especially when we needed to late, hitting all of them in the second half and overtime."
The scoring opened with a three-pointer on either side before a 14-3 run sent La Verne well ahead at 17-6 with 6:57 on the clock as Caltech went over eight minutes without a basket. Freshman David Kawashima (Studio City, Calif. / North Hollywood) and sophomore David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) spearheaded a late flurry to pull the Beavers back within seven at the break, 22-15, as the pair combined to score the final seven points of the half.
The Leopards held their margin over the first two minutes, but the Beavers rattled off an 8-2 run to pull within one at 28-27 with just over five minutes elapsed. Al-Rayes started to heat up at that point, hitting a hook shot in the post to send Caltech ahead for the first time at 29-28 with 13:55 on the clock. The big man put his team back up three more times, the last at 38-36 with 8:04 remaining, which senior Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) added to with a layup for the Beavers' biggest lead of the game at four points.
"We did a much better job executing our game plan to end the half and start the second," Eslinger said. "We really tried to refocus the team on our main game goals, and the guys did a wonderful job listening and processing everything. DK really showed his stuff and gave us a huge boost when we were struggling to score, manufacturing points and making a run."
La Verne immediately regained the lead with five straight points, but a jumper by senior Bryan Joel (Bethesda, Md. / Walt Whitman) put Caltech back on top with 3:16 to go. Hogue got to the line and made it a three-point game with two minutes to play, but two trips to the charity stripe allowed the Leopards to tie things up at 44-44. With the ball in their hands for the final possession, the Beavers could not get a clean look despite a pair of offensive rebounds, and the game went to overtime.
"When it went to overtime again, we just said, 'Let's enjoy playing some more basketball!" Eslinger said. "I actually enjoy them – they're exciting to coach. To see us battle the whole way, and the couple extra, says a lot about our program."
Having already played four overtime periods this season, it was no surprise that Caltech scored the first four points in the opening minute. La Verne tied things up less than two minutes later and went ahead on a pair of free throws at the 1:43 mark, but Emezie tied it with a pair of free throws and did it again after a La Verne basket going into the final minute. Caltech's defense did its job at the other end but as Joel grabbed the rebound, he fell to the floor and was whistled for traveling, giving the hosts another chance. La Verne's final effort missed everything, however, to send the game to double overtime.
Emezie kept up his late dominance with a three-point play to open the second overtime, but the lead would not last as La Verne's Brett Stephan nailed a three with a hand directly in his face to level the score at 55-55. Emezie came right back, driving into the lane and drawing a foul to earn another trip to the line, where he calmly converted both free throws to regain the lead with just 1:25 remaining.
Once again, the defense took care of business on the other end, but as Hogue turned upcourt after a rebound, La Verne stripped the ball and called a timeout. Stephan hit a jumper following the inbounds with 53 seconds left to play and, following a block on the defensive end, the Leopards scored the go-ahead basket on a tip-in with just three seconds remaining. Hogue's last-gasp three-pointer looked true but clanked off the back iron to end the game, 59-57 in La Verne's favor.
Al-Rayes and Emezie led the Beavers with game-highs of 14 points apiece as Al-Rayes completed the double-double with 10 rebounds, while Emezie's double-figure haul was the 40th of his career. Hogue brought down a game-high 14 rebounds for his 10th career double-digit total and sophomore Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) chipped in nine points.
"Hogue and Kc led everyone in playing their hearts out, grinding and gutting out plays all night," Eslinger said. "Kc got that look in his eyes that he wasn't going to be stopped and was spectacular. Nasser played big, and Lawrence Lee had some great minutes. I'm just darn proud of these guys."
Eslinger and the Beavers will look to bounce back at home against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges (3-13, 1-6) on Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m.