PASADENA (Dec. 29, 2018) – The Caltech men's basketball team secured another victory, a 69-66 triumph over visiting Pacific Lutheran University on Saturday to secure the program's best outright start to a season since 1953-54. In the current season, however, each of the Beavers' first nine games came against NCAA competition, and the six non-conference wins against NCAA foes have built upon what has already been an all-time best mark.
Sophomore forward Spencer Schneider (Houston, Texas / Clearbrook) provided his team with the big shot this time around, sinking an open three-pointer on the near side off a clean pass from freshman guard Noah Barnes (Springfield, Va. / Jefferson). With both teams struggling over the lead in the decisive minutes, Schneider's triple put the Beavers out in front for good and ignited the defense to pick up a big turnover on the ensuing possession. Junior guard Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom) stole the ball and dished it off to Barnes on the fastbreak for the quick finish, putting Caltech up by three with under a minute to play. With the Lutes' offense now frantic to settle the score, Caltech assumed full control of the pace. One miscue from the visitors and five Marcus Gee (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica) free throws later, the Beavers earned their sixth win of the season, and have already exceeded last year's total of five.
"Obviously, it's great to win," Schneider said. "Coach always says every game is a practice in the non-conference season so we just try and go out there, have a good practice and I think we did that over the course of all nine games. I think we got better and learned a lot but now that the 6-3 record doesn't matter, we're back to 0-0 in our minds. We'll just have to come out and win some SCIAC games and I think we're all looking forward to getting after it and competing."
Caltech found itself at a 35-26 disadvantage going into the second half but once again proved its ability to score in bunches, beginning the latter half on a 13-3 run that provided the home team with a brief lead down the stretch. Schneider and Gee particularly began to find a rhythm over the final 20 minutes, with the forward scoring all 13 of his points in the second half and 12 from deep while Gee managed 16 of his 18 points over the final 20 minutes while going 8-for-10 from the foul line. Andrews chipped in with 10 points, but also found other ways to contribute with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, including the game-clincher off of Pacific Lutheran's leading scorer.
Barnes' consistency throughout the game, however, helped stabilize the Beavers throughout the full 40 minutes. The freshman went 7-for-9 from the field and finished the game with a career-best 16 points to go with four rebounds, two assists, and one block. Barnes also converted on two three's (one of which came completely uncovered off the inbound) and shot a perfect 4-for-4 in the second half.
"We approach every game the same way," Barnes said. "Today, shots were falling for me and it always feels good to get the first couple shots going to build confidence. I know that over the course of our games, every player on the floor is a threat so somebody can break out and go off every night. Tonight it was me."
The Beavers' numbers on Saturday shared consistency with their previous five wins. Caltech connected from deep with 11 team three-pointers, took care of the basketball with just three turnovers over the big second half and the players found each other consistently with 16 team assists. Once the Beavers rediscovered their defensive identity in the second half, they began to have more success on both ends of the floor, eventually coming together for one final scoring streak to cap off the game and lock up the victory.
"Tonight was a nice display of teamwork and trust," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "It's good to see a group come together that works really hard around one another, have some success and experience the feeling of winning. It's really just an attitude and mindset that allows us to work together like how we did tonight."
Eslinger and the Beavers are set to begin the SCIAC slate after the new year on the road at California Lutheran University (2-7).