Photo by Michael Wong
PASADENA, Calif. (Jan. 4, 2016) – The Caltech men's basketball team led from start to finish thanks to a superb defensive display to open SCIAC play at 1-0 with a 46-41 victory over the University of Redlands on Monday night.
Kicking off the first night students were back on campus in front of a raucous, near-capacity crowd, the Beavers took a 9-3 lead six minutes into the game and extended it to a high of 10 before turning away multiple Redlands rallies in the second half to record the victory – the Beavers' first in a SCIAC opener since 1970-71. While Caltech is now 3-7 overall and 1-0 in the SCIAC, it has already defeated two conference opponents at this point in the season, having opened the year with an 86-77 win over Occidental College in the 110 Freeway Rivalry. Redlands is now 4-7 (0-2).
"Everyone made some tremendous plays and showed serious mental grit to hit the free throws that allowed us to maintain our advantage," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "We had a terrific crowd that really gave us a ton of energy. Thanks to Caltech Dining and Athletics for putting on such a nice event that helped get us through this one."
Caltech limited Redlands to a mere 29 percent shooting from the field and allowed just two three-pointers on 16 attempts. The Beavers also attempted 12 more free throws over the course of the game, ultimately scoring 14 more points on free throws than the Bulldogs, while posting a +8 rebound margin and recording 13 steals to overcome a 12-shot advantage for the visitors.
"We figured it would be a really rough and tough battle, just like last year," Eslinger said. "We earned a lot of trips to the line and did a great job converting them. We made more free throws than they attempted, which is a testament to our guys working hard and playing smart."
The game began with five missed shots between the two teams before junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the arc to give Caltech a lead it would never relinquish. A trifecta from junior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) following a Bulldogs free throw made it 6-1 and Al-Rayes added three more points on a jumper and free throw to give the Beavers a 9-3 lead with 13:55 on the clock.
Junior Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) made his third assist on the Beavers' fourth shot of the game as sophomore David Kawashima (Studio City, Calif. / North Hollywood) nailed another trey from the corner directly in front of the Redlands bench to extend the margin to seven. Three trips to the charity stripe later, the Beavers had converted five free throws to stretch out to a game-high 10-point lead at 17-7 with 7:05 left in the half.
Redlands did manage to halve that deficit to five at 21-16 by the break, but would not score another point for the first 4:27 of the second half while Caltech made it 24-16. Second Team All-SCIAC forward Al Bjekovic made his mark at that point, scoring five straight to pull Redlands back within a basket for the first time since the 16-minute mark in the first half. A second-chance tip-in by senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) and Al-Rayes layup took Caltech up by seven with 14:12 to play, but the Bulldogs refused to quit and made it a three-point game at 30-27 with 9:52 remaining.
After a four-and-a-half minute scoreless drought with a small lineup on the court, Eslinger sent Al-Rayes and Lee back in and things started clicking again. The teams traded shots over the next two minutes before another scoreless stretch, until Caltech finally separated in the last two minutes. Following a Redlands layup to bring the margin to three once again, a miscue on the offensive end gave the ball back to the Bulldogs with 2:26 remaining. Bjekovic drove into the lane and dished to an unmarked teammate right under the basket, but junior David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) flew in to break up what would have been an uncontested layup and stripped the ball, then earned a trip to the free throw line and converted both for the five-point lead with 1:42 left to play.
Galliani came up with a steal on the Bulldogs' next possession and LeBaron once more found himself at the line, where he calmly hit both again to make it 39-32 with 1:10 on the clock. Redlands mustered a quick layup but Emezie canceled that out with a drive and second-chance tip-in at the other end. A quick-trigger three-point attempt clanged off the iron for Redlands and Al-Rayes pulled down the board, then went to the line and knocked down both his attempts for the 43-34 score line.
Plenty of action remained in the final 25 seconds, however, as the Bulldogs scored on their next chance, then sent Kawashima to the line, where the sophomore hit the first of two to maintain an eight-point edge. With fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Redlands scored once more and the Beavers converted just one at their end again, allowing the Bulldogs' ensuing three-pointer to make it a four-game at 45-41 with four seconds left. Al-Rayes was fouled on the inbounds and went to the line for two with a chance to ice the game, which he did in hitting the second attempt for the final score of 46-41.
Al-Rayes led Caltech with 13 points and eight rebounds while Emezie chipped in 11 on 4-for-7 shooting. LeBaron posted an all-around line of eight points, seven boards and six steals. Lee added three points, six rebounds and three assists and Galliani contributed five points, six rebounds, three steals and the Beavers' only other assist. Freshman Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / Laguna Beach) came off the bench to score two, grab four rebounds and block three shots while adding a steal and Kawashima finished with four points and five rebounds.
"This is a tribute to all our guys," Eslinger said. "They are locked in for days. They're even showing up to meetings 15 minutes early. Every one of them was ready, and is ready to continue this."
Eslinger and the Beavers will continue SCIAC play at Cal Lutheran University (5-3, 1-0) on Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m. The game will be streamed live online here, with livestats also available here.