WALLA WALLA, Wash. - It was a back-and-forth, heavyweight battle that's normally reserved for much later in the tournament. Unfortunately for one team, Friday's thriller was the end of the line in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. For the second year in a row, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's basketball team squared off with the No. 2 Whitworth Pirates in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. The Stags and Pirates traded the lead 16 times in the contest with neither team holding more than a seven-point advantage, but when the dust settled after 40 minutes it was the Stags who earned the hard-fought 83-82 victory and a trip to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. CMS will move on to face the No. 1 Whitman Blues on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.
Scott Lynds (CMC) and Michael Scarlett (CMC) shouldered the load throughout the game, scoring a combined 59 points in the game for the Stags. Scarlett was the man down the stretch, flipping in layups, knocking down long jumpers, and cashing in from the free throw line just as he has all season. In total, Scarlett scored 11 points in the final 3:15 of the contest to help push CMS over the top for the one-point victory.
CMS scored the first five points of Friday's game thanks to a three from Lynds and a layup from Scarlett. The backcourt duo continued to impress in the opening minutes, scoring the first 15 points of the game for CMS. With CMS leading 15-13, Mitchell Kirsch (CMC) knocked down a three off the bench to account for the first non-Scarlett or Lynds points of the game for the Stags with 12:19 remaining in the half.
The Stags and Pirates continued to trade buckets throughout the first-half. With 5:45 left in the half, Lynds found Scarlett for three to put the Stags up one at 26-25. In the minute that followed the lead changed hands two more times with a triple from Whitworth's Ben College and a three from Miles President (HMC). After the quick burst, CMS held a 29-28 lead with under five minutes remaining in the first-half.
Kyle Roach then picked the Stags' pocket at midcourt and cruised in for an uncontested dunk to start a 7-0 Pirates' run to give Whitworth the largest lead of the half for either team at 35-29.
CMS responded with a 7-0 run of their own, thanks to layups from Scarlett and Kendrick Morris (), and a three from President. The spurt put the Stags on top once again at 36-35 with just seconds remaining before the half. A full court pass and a three by Ben College beat the halftime buzzer and the Pirates led 38-36 going into the break.
A quick 5-2 run by the Pirates started the second-half and CMS found themselves in a 43-38 hole. The Stags responded with a 9-2 run to take a 47-45 lead after a layup from Scarlett less than five minutes into the game.
Following a three by Lynds with 10:34 remaining in the game, CMS had increased their lead to five points at 56-51. The next minute of play was an odd one. After a Whitworth layup, the Pirates' Isaiah Hernandez was fouled while driving across the midcourt line. Despite a foul being called, Hernandez continued his push to the bucket and was fouled again by the Stags. During this second foul the Pirates bench leaked onto the court looking for a foul call. After a discussion by the referees, the initial foul was called as well as technical fouls assigned to both teams. As a result, five free throws were taken in a row; three for the Pirates and two for the Stags. CMS went 1-2 from the line while the Pirates went 3-3 to tie the game at 57-57.
After a jumper by Whitworth, CMS trailed 59-57 with 9:40 remaining in the game.
With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, Whitworth held a 64-60 lead, but a 7-2 CMS run put the Stags back on top 67-66. The lead continued to be passed back and forth until Michael Scarlett knocked down a jumper in the paint with 3:14 remaining. The jumper handed the Stags a 70-69 lead. A minute and a half later, Scarlett was at it again, putting through another nifty finish to give CMS a three-point lead at 72-69.
Another jumper from Scarlett and five free throws from Lynds and Scarlett gave CMS their largest lead of the game at 79-72 with 14 seconds remaining. The game however, was far from over.
Whitman made a pair of threes and put through two layups in the final 14 seconds, but Scarlett and Lynds countered with four free throws in the seconds for the Stags. Jared Christy made a layup at the buzzer for Whitworth, but the bucket was not enough and CMS held on for the thrilling 83-82 victory.
As they say, no games are easy in March. That thought could not be truer for the Stags. After a gritty one-point victory over No. 2 Whitworth, the Stags now have to turn around and play the No. 1 Whitman Blues on their home floor with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line tomorrow night. Once again this is a rematch of last year's Second Round game that saw Whitman hold on for a 79-73 win.
The Blues are coming off an 87-77 victory over Schreiner in the First Round of the 2018 Tournament on Friday night.
The Stags and Blues will square off Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. in Walla Walla, Wash.