SPOKANE, Wash. (Nov. 20, 2015) – Junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) and senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) lit up the scoreboard for Caltech men's basketball at the program's highest-ranked foe in history, #3 Whitworth University, on Friday night.
Al-Rayes scored a game-high-tying 19 points (9-of-11 from the free throw line) to go with six rebounds and two blocks while Emezie poured in 16 on a typically efficient 7-of-11 shooting.
The final score of 80-58 did not do the game justice as the Beavers hung around a 10-point deficit for the majority of the game, but an early Whitworth surge and late flurries in both halves allowed the hosts to defend their home court. Whitworth improves to 2-0 on the season while Caltech sits at 1-1.
"The major take away from this game is that, when we put in the right type of effort – mostly mental – we can play with anyone, anywhere in the nation," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "Aside from a few patches of a couple minutes each, we played with them shot-for-shot."
Whitworth outshot Caltech both from the field (46 to 37 percent) and free throw line (82 to 63 percent) while outrebounding (43-33) and edging the Beavers in assist-to-turnover ratio (12:8 vs. 4:9).
"Whitworth is a great and efficient team, so spotting them early points put us in a position that made us have to focus even more," Eslinger said. "We always expect to hit the boards better, but even though our assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't look great, limiting ourselves to nine turnovers is right where we should be."
Junior Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) knocked down a three-pointer for the game's opening bucket, but the Beavers would not score again for the next six minutes. Meanwhile, Whitworth built up a 17-3 lead through the 12:15 mark.
Emezie started to get involved with consecutive baskets on a nice layoff in the lane from Al-Rayes and an acrobatic driving layup to pull back within single digits at 21-12. The teams traded shots until a late flurry for Whitworth put the Pirates up by 19 at the half, 42-23.
The Beavers came out of the break absolutely on fire, netting the first 10 points over two minutes and 20 seconds to immediately cut the deficit to nine. Caltech pulled even closer at the 16:00 mark at 45-37 before another big run had the hosts ahead by 17. Eslinger's squad refused to go away and made it a nine-point deficit at 60-51 with 8:17 remaining, but Whitworth put the game away at that point with a 17-5 run to end the game.
"We had a couple terrific spurts in the second half – I was really proud of how the guys came out of halftime," Eslinger said. "We were out of sync to begin the game and that hurt our movement and spacing. We came out and fought to start the second half and before anyone knew it, it was a single-digit game. Just plain effort and belief in our game plan."
Emezie rounded out his line in the box score with five rebounds, two assists and a block. Junior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) chipped in nine points, going 3-of-8 from beyond the arc, with six rebounds and Lee added eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from long range before fouling out after just 19 minutes.
"Whitworth was ready for us, but we learned a lot about how to come out on the road in a tough environment," Eslinger said. "This trip is about gaining experience and improving our skills on the road. Our next opponent is another tough team that plays a different style, so we just need to get some rest and replenish our minds for tomorrow."
Eslinger and the Beavers will bus over to Walla Walla, Wash. to face Whitman College (1-0), a 20-game winner last season, just 20 hours after tonight's final whistle on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 5:00 p.m. Video stream and Livestats links can be found on the team's schedule page.