PASADENA (Apr. 22, 2019) – The Caltech men's basketball experienced one of its three best seasons of all time in 2018-19. The Beavers kicked things off with a bang, going 6-3 in non-conference games entirely against Division III competition, with each win decided by four points or fewer. With victories over Oberlin College, Carleton College, the University of California Santa Cruz, Principia College, Lewis & Clark Colleges, and Pacific Lutheran University, and exciting exhibition games against NAIA DI Vanguard University and NCAA DI California Baptist University, the Beavers found themselves primed and prepped for a competitive conference slate. Caltech finished this stretch among the top-40 teams in Division III in scoring defense, assist to turnover ratio, three-pointers made per game, free throw percentage, and fewest turnovers per game.
"Our guys worked hard in the offseason to improve our offensive efficiency, and when you look at our assist-to-turnover rate and us being 10th in the nation in fewest turnovers I thought we did that," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "Our ability to take care of the basketball is the one thing I'm most proud of and it obviously helped us win the close games."
The Beavers earned four more SCIAC wins the rest of the way, finishing the year with double-digit wins (10) for the first time since the 1953-54 campaign. Most notably, the Beavers put up 92 points in a win against Whittier College at home and swept the University of La Verne in two meetings. Caltech also won at Chapman University for the first time since 1954.
Junior Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom) and sophomore Gokul Srinivasaragavan (San Ramon, Calif. / Dougherty Valley) picked up SCIAC accolades in November as SCIAC Offensive and Defensive Athletes of the Week. Andrews set program assist marks for the most helpers in a game (12), season (138), and career all in one fell swoop, and will have the opportunity to build on his reputation as the Beavers' best facilitator of all time as a senior in 2020. Andrews also led the SCIAC in steals.
Meanwhile, second-year guard Marcus Gee (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica) led the team in scoring (16.1 ppg SCIAC), led the SCIAC in three-pointers made, and in conference play had as many steals as teammate Andrews. Gee was also the only SCIAC sophomore named to the all-conference team out of 14 players.
Just like in previous years, talent in youth stood out as a strength for Caltech. Freshman Noah Barnes (Springfield, Va. / Jefferson) finished second on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg SCIAC) and became the first Caltech men's player to be named SCIAC Newcomer of the Year. Sophomore co-captain Spencer Schneider (Houston, Texas / Clearbrook) also averaged double figures overall and in league with over 11 points per game. Freshman Stephen Hei (Newcastle, Wash. / Liberty) overcame mid-season illness and shot 42 percent from deep, good for second all-time in program history.
With just nine active players on the roster, freshman Riley O'Neil (Santa Rosa, Calif. / Montgomery) and juniors Aaron Ayres (Tucson, Ariz. / Catalina Foothills) and Ross Carter (Sudbury, Mass. / The Rivers School) stepped up in a number of games and made their presences felt in the front court.
"The roster size didn't make things easy, but we had some impactful freshmen come in and contribute from Day 1," Eslinger said. "Everybody put in the work and used their time efficiently, and I think it showed. We had some returners set some big records, but they have their sights set higher than just individual accolades, and they will tell you that."
Caltech finished among the top-tier in several metrics nationally, including fewest turnovers (10th), fewest fouls (31st), assist to turnover ratio (41st), and 3-pointers made (96th) and attempted (54th), the latter of which garnered national attention as the Wall Street Journal highlighted the team's focus on spacing the floor and shooting the trifecta.
The Beavers also paced the SCIAC in fewest turnovers per game and three-point attempts per game, and ranked second in three's per game, steals per game, and fewest personal fouls per game. Collectively, Caltech finished fourth in the conference in fewest points allowed.
"We still have to get better defensively," Eslinger said. "We need to work on making it tougher on teams as the shot clock winds down and on the glass we just need to get a lot stronger and tougher on both ends. Our rebounding needs to get better if we want to be extremely competitive in conference and nationally, so that is going to be our priortity. The guys know that, and they know it takes everybody to be able to do that. It's physical, tactical, mental, but it's going to be a main part of value system going forward."
"We can always get better at shooting too. That never hurts."
Next year, the Beavers will add another great recruiting class to complement all nine returners. With more length and talent joining Coach Eslinger's exciting and effective two-way system, the Beavers will surely be a team to watch!
"Programs are built in phases," Eslinger said. "We're in a phase where we believe if we can come together the right way, be healthy and have the right mindset as a group that we can be nationally relevant. There's never an end goal; every season is different and every team is different. The path is and always has been the goal."