Photo by Bob Paz
PASADENA, Calif. (Feb. 3, 2016) – Junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) dropped 17 points to lead Caltech men's basketball to its third win over SCIAC rival Occidental College this season on Wednesday night, evening the Beavers' conference record at 5-5 to retain fourth place with just six games left to play.
The Beavers had their best shooting performance in nearly a month, hitting 46 percent from the field, including a sterling 67 percent in the second half, and 31 percent beyond the arc while outrebounding the Tigers by eight.
"We always take the same approach in and out of every game – focus on practice, focus on the next game," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "All credit to the guys for locking in and really focusing on the game plan."
Oxy jumped out to the early lead at 11-4 with 15:10 on the clock as Andrew Johnson and Jay Miller scored all 11 Tigers points. Caltech steadily climbed back within a basket at 15-13 and not long after, senior Robert Anderson (Orono, Minn. / Orono) canned a three-pointer to make it a one-point game with 7:49 left in the half. Oxy would go on to lead by six at the half, however, at 33-27 as the visitors shot 52 percent to the Beavers' 32 percent over the first 20 minutes.
The Tigers quickly stretched the lead out to eight at 37-29 just over two minutes into the second half. A jumper by junior Lawrence Lee (Hong Kong / Hong Kong International School) and layup from senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) on a slick pass from junior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) pulled the Beavers back within three, but Oxy extended the margin back to six with just under 13 minutes remaining.
The turning point came at the 12:06 mark when Al-Rayes popped out for a three-pointer and drilled it while picking up the foul call, then hit the ensuing free throw for the four-point play. Junior David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) made short work of a defender in the post on the next possession to tie the game at 43-43 but Oxy responded with four unanswered points as Caltech went scoreless for two minutes.
Freshman Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / Laguna Beach) drilled a trey to trim the deficit to one yet again with 9:02 left to play and, following a hard-fought two scoreless minutes for both teams, sent the hosts ahead as he went coast-to-coast on the fast break and laid the ball in amid a multitude of defenders' arms. The rookie made it a three-point edge with a smart steal and driving layup almost two minutes later and Caltech surged ahead by a game-high 13 thanks to another four-point play by Al-Rayes and four consecutive free throws from the big man and freshman. The Beavers' trademark suffocating defense held Oxy to a single point over a nearly nine-minute stretch before some late heroics by Tigers leading scorer Jay Miller cut the final score line to 65-59.
"It was great to see us shoot just under 50 percent and win the free throw battle," Eslinger said. "We always emphasize earning more trips to the line and making our opportunities. We lead the conference in makes and want to continue to maximize that."
Al-Rayes finished with a team-high 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while Cahill chipped in 16 on 4-for-7 shooting (1-for-1 on three-pointers) and four steals in just 22 minutes. LeBaron added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists while Emezie scored 10 on 5-for-7 shooting and Galliani grabbed eight boards along with dishing out four assists.
"Brent was terrific, really giving us a lift along with the rest of the reinforcements," Eslinger said. "It was great to see Andrew give us some solid minutes and Rob had great energy and hit his shot when he saw the chance. Really, our entire team was big-time into this."
Eslinger and the fourth-place Beavers host sixth-place Cal Lutheran University (8-9, 4-6) on Saturday, Feb. 6 at 5 p.m.