Photo: Michael Wong
PASADENA (Jan. 26, 2017) – The hot hands of starting senior Ricky Galliani (Menlo Park, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) and sophomore Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / St. Margaret's) off the bench helped the Caltech men's basketball team knock off visiting Chapman University for the first time in 63 years in Thursday's SCIAC game. The Beavers defeated the Panthers, 64-52.
Both players finished with 15 points. The two guards led the Beavers in a near symmetrical two halves of good shot selection and sound perimeter defense, a puzzle which the Panthers were never able to solve completely throughout the game's 40 minutes. The end result turned out to be one of historic proportion.
"It's been a long time," Eslinger said. "You try not to think about it too much. I told the guys tonight how important [the win] was, how they should value this program, the records we can set and the history we can make. It's cool. It's a neat thing, it's historic and we always try to give the guys something for their confidence."
The Beavers end the first half of SCIAC play at an even 4-4, just one game out of a three-way tie for third place.
The victory was arguably the Beavers' best team performance of the season. Senior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) had 11 points and seven rebounds. Fellow senior David LeBaron (San Diego, Calif. / Francis Parker) had 10 points, four rebounds and two steals. Some of the freshmen also saw a large chunk of the action as Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom) tallied a career-high nine assists without committing a single turnovers and Michael Li (Bryn Mawr, Pa. / Radnor) played 20 minutes at the point coming off the bench. Eslinger has seen great improvement from his younger players since the preseason and has grown increasingly more confident in using them as the year has progressed.
"The first-year guys are not first-year anymore," Eslinger said."They had a lot of experience in the nonleague against good teams. We wanted to do that, that's the reason we play a tough non-conference schedule. Then you try and figure out what your team's identity is going to be with that many new guys. They're just playing tough now. They understand the system and the roles they're performing. We want to be able to use everybody."
Chapman held a narrow lead for the game's first seven minutes before Caltech went up for good on a Cahill layup to give the Beavers a 10-8 first half lead. Once the Beavers increased the lead to 10 on a Li layup with 32 seconds to go in the half, they were able to keep the Panthers at a distance for the rest of the game. Caltech opened the second half on a 9-2 run, which contained a three-pointer from Galliani to open the frame followed by two layups from LeBaron and one from Al-Rayes. Holding a 17-point lead with 15 minutes left to go, Caltech successfully held off its SCIAC foe the rest of the way, with Chapman never coming closer than eight.
"I think that we're playing with a lot of great energy leading up to these games," Eslinger said. "The guys have been really locked in the last week. We're playing really good teams, too. Conference play is just how much can you focus and can you take your focus to a higher level? Can the guys really lock in and salivate over the scouting reports and what you're trying to teach them with the gameplan and the strategy? They've really done that the last couple games and we've got some good momentum going."
Eslinger and the Beavers will next travel to the University of Redlands (6-11 overall, 2-6 SCIAC) for Saturday, Jan. 28's 7 p.m. contest. The meeting will be a rematch of the teams' first meeting less than three weeks prior, when the Bulldogs finished strong to defeat the Beavers, 78-71.
"The first time against Redlands was close," Eslinger said. "They ended up pulling it out but we believe we can beat anybody so we're going in with that mentality."