Photo: Jack Goodwillie
PASADENA (Nov. 26, 2016) – Senior forward David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) had a breakout performance for Caltech's men's basketball team in Saturday's non-conference home loss to Wisconsin Lutheran College.
LeBaron, who has been growing into his new role as a forward, delivered just his second 20-point scoring game with the Beavers and shot over 50 percent from the field. He also contributed on all ends of the court by pulling down a team-high eight rebounds to go with four assists and three steals.
"David has been our most consistent performer," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "He does everything for us and we count on him in so many ways. [I'm] not surprised at all with his production. He is a great all-around player. He brings it in practice every day."
The 6-foot-5 senior set the tone particularly well in the first half when he scored 18 of his 20 points. From there, the rest of the team followed his lead. Senior center Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) got back on track by being more selective from the field. The SCIAC leading rebounder converted on five of six shots and, while he had only five rebounds, he also made his presence felt with four blocks.
Caltech entered the second half with a 40-34 lead. From there, the Beavers embarked on a roller coaster ride that saw multiple lead changes, twists and turns. With his team trailing by two, senior guard Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif./Sacred Heart Prep) drove into traffic and got fouled on a layup that fell through the net. He then converted the free throw to give Caltech a one-point lead with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
After holding off the Warriors for the majority of that time, the Beavers allowed the go-ahead layup with 14 seconds to go. It provided Eslinger with an opportunity to dial up a play to give his team one last shot at coming away with its first win of 2016. As time whittled down, the ball found its way inside to Al-Rayes, who got fouled on the would-be game-winning layup. The big man missed both free throws and the Beavers ended up just one break or two away from winning the game.
"Nasser really influences the game in a big way," Eslinger said. "His presence alone bothers the other team and we saw more of that. He's a tireless worker and will be fine."
LeBaron, Al-Rayes and Galliani were not the only Caltech contributors on Saturday. Sophomore guard/forward Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / St. Margaret's) came off the bench but played nearly the entire game while boosting the Beavers with 18 points. Freshman point guard Michael Li (Bryn Mawr, Pa. / Radnor) played 22 minutes and made his first career start as a Beaver.
One of the biggest keys for Caltech was its cumulative free throw shooting. After shooting under 50 percent in their first two games, the Beavers fared much better Saturday, converting on 66.7 percent of their shots from the charity stripe.
"We are still at the stage in trying to learn who we are as a team," Eslinger said. "[There are] lots of new guys and many have been sick. We are dealing with adversity now and trying to find our way. We certainly showed some more of what we can do and there's always room to grow."
Eslinger and the Beavers will enjoy a lengthy layoff before returning to their home floor against University of California, Santa Cruz on Saturday, December 10.