CLAREMONT, Calif. – In what potentially could have ended in a heart-breaker, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's basketball team (21-4) refused to end its season with a SCIAC semifinal loss to cross-street rival Pomona-Pitzer (14-11). After trailing by 18 points during the first half, the Stags grind their way to a comeback to defeat the Sagehens 70-64.
Pomona-Pitzer did an excellent job controlling the glass for the entire game, outrebounding the Stags 33-24, and making the most out of its extra possessions from the offensive boards. However, CMS used its defense to spark the offense, pressing the Sagehens to 16 turnovers, including nine steals, to generate easy baskets.
Junior Kendrick Morris (CMC) paved the offense with 17 points, going 7-for-10 from the field, while senior Riley Hall (CMC) chipped in 11 points with eight rebounds. Hall and Morris had big nights on the defensive end as both players had two steals and a block each. Adam Rees led the Sagehens with 16 points, but Corbin Koch, who found success in the regular season against CMS the last two games, was held to seven points.
The Sagehens stifled the Stags in the beginning of the game, limiting their ball movement and denying passes away from junior Michael Scarlett (CMC) and Morris. With the game tied 8-8, the Sagehens went on an 18-0 run by drawing double teams on the drive and passing the ball to the open man. The Stags were lulled into playing at the Sagehens' pace, leading to stalled ball movement and hasty shots.
CMS went to its bench and found new life after sophomore Evan Davis (CMC) hit a timely 3-pointer to cut the lead 26-11 with 5:55 left in the half. The team suddenly regained its composure and played with more patience on the ball. Hall played a key role in continuing the 15-2 run, draining a 3-point basket from the top of the arc, and stealing the ball from James Kelbert for a fast break layup. With 14 seconds left in the half, Scarlett tried to find space for an open shot, but passed it off to Hall. Hall drove in and pulled up for a quick jumper over two defenders to beat the buzzer, cutting the Sagehens' lead 32-27 at halftime.
Climbing back was no easy feat for the Stags during the second half as Pomona-Pitzer would always find the basket whenever CMS came within one possession. However, Davis once again kick-started the Stags' offense after hitting a clutch 3-pointer with 6:59 left in the game to give CMS a 53-51 lead. The Sagehens quickly took the lead back with a layup from Kelbert followed by a 3-pointer, but Stags showed more poise on the offensive end and were primed to trade baskets with Pomona-Pitzer.
With the game tied at 58 apiece and 3:41 left in the game, junior Jack Ely (CMC) missed his free throw attempt, but leapt through several Sagehens to collect the offensive board. He shoveled the ball to Morris, but the big man got fouled on his layup attempt. Morris hit both free throws. The Stags found Morris in the post on the following possession, but the junior cleverly read the double team and kicked the ball out to Scarlett for a 3-pointer to extend the lead.
Ahead 67-62 with 55 seconds left in the game, Kelbert desperately tried to bring the Sagehens back in it with a layup attempt, but Morris easily read the shot and swatted it away. Kelbert managed to salvage the possession after scoring a put-back off an offensive board to make it a one-possession game. However with 11 seconds left, Scarlett drove to the lane in hopes of icing the game, but saw his attempt miss. Morris came through with the tip-in to seal the game.
The Stags will return home on Saturday, Feb. 25 to host Cal Lutheran at 7 p.m. The two teams split their regular season matchup and will be playing for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
By Young Kim
Sports Information Assistant
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