WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's basketball team and the No. 1 Whitman Blues were feeling a little bit of déjà vu on Saturday night. For the second year in a row, the CMS Stags and Whitman Blues squared off on the Blues' home floor in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. While Saturday's game had its own twists and turns, the ending felt eerily similar as well. The Blues narrowly edged the Stags, 89-84 to escape with a five-point victory and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. At the same time, the Stags' season ends in heartbreaking fashion for the second-straight year in Walla Walla, Wash.
Of the 64 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, the Stags had the toughest path to the Second Weekend. Despite being dealt to the pod with the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams in the country, the Stags were just one shot away from escaping to the Sweet Sixteen. After outlasting the No. 2 Whitworth Pirates in the First Round on Friday night, CMS took the No. 1 Whitman Blues to overtime.
The Stags worked a furious comeback late in the second-half to force the extra period, but the Blues had just enough left in the tank to claim the five-point victory at the end of the five-minute extra period.
"We had a little tough start, but I'm really proud of how resilient my team is," said head coach Ken Scalmanini after the game. "It was kind of our season in a nutshell, with us losing at the beginning and fighting back. We got down right away at the start of the game, but gave ourselves a chance to win in overtime…in the end it just wasn't our night."
As coach said, the final score of 89-84 in overtime doesn't really do this game justice. This Second Round battle had all sorts of story lines woven throughout the 45 minutes of play. First, it looked like CMS had been dealt a major blow when starting point guard Scott Lynds (CMC) went down just 90 seconds into the game. Lynds knocked knees with a defender while trying to break the Blues' full-court pressure. After leaving the floor for a few minutes for treatment, Lynds returned to play exceptionally well over the next 40 minutes, He finished the game with a team-high 26 points on an 11-18 shooting effort.
In addition to Lynds' scoring effort, CMS got 23 points from Michael Scarlett (CMC) and 20 points from Miles President (HMC). The 20 points from President might have been the most impressive performance from the Stags, as President was in foul trouble early and had to carefully navigate his way through the second-half and overtime periods. President was not the only Stag in foul trouble early.
Kendrick Morris (CMC) played just eight minutes in the opening half after picking up two quick fouls. Jack Ely (CMC) was in the same boat, picking up two first-half fouls and logging just 10 minutes in the opening half. Ely eventually fouled out with just over a minute left in regulation and was not available for the overtime period.
Amidst these challenges the Stags went toe-to-toe with the top team in the country. It took a little while for the Stags to get cooking, but a late second-half run nearly derailed the Blues' dreams of another Sweet Sixteen appearance.
After a sloppy start to the game for both teams, Whitman held a 20-8 lead less than eight minutes into the contest. A three from Scarlett and a beautiful stutter-step reverse layup by President, quickly made it a seven-point game just over a minute later. The Blues stayed in control of the game, hovering their lead between five and 10 points for the next 10 minutes.
CMS did trim the Whitman cushion down to four points with a great find inside by Scarlett. Off a screen at the top of the key, Scarlett turned the corner and saw a wide-open Maxwell Kirsch (CMC) on the baseline. Scarlett whipped a chest pass to Kirsch for the layup to make it a 28-24 game with 7:07 remaining in the half.
After the Blues quickly took the lead back to 10 points, Scott Lynds found Patrick Myers (CMC) for an uncontested layup. Lynds faked a shot on the outside to get his defender in the air before finding Myers for the lay-in. On the next possession, Lynds found Myers again and the lead was down to six at 34-28 with under six minutes remaining in the half.
CMS would score just four points over the final five minutes of the half and after Tim Howell finished a layup with 30 seconds left in the half, the Blues took a 44-32 lead into the break.
Howell shouldered the load offensively for the Blues' all night long. The senior went for a game-high 35 points, but was especially lethal in the first-half, scoring 18 points on a 9-12 mark from the field.
Scott Lynds knocked down a corner three and Miles President finished a jumper to start the second-half. The two quick buckets chopped the lead down to seven points and for the seven minutes, the Whitman lead hovered between seven and 12 points.
With the Blues leading 53-41, five minutes into the second-half, Lynds made a layup to start a 9-2 CMS run that lasted less than 2:30 and brought CMS within five points.
During the burst, Lynds made a pair of layups, President hit a three, and Scarlett was pure on a jumper. After Scarlett's jumper the Stags trailed just 55-50 with 12:43 remaining. Just over a minute later, President finished his second layup in as many possession to bring CMS within three at 57-54.
The Blues' lead sat around five points for the next five minutes until Whitman made an attempt to pull away from the Stags. An 8-1 Whitman run pushed the Blues' lead to 12 points at 71-59 with 5:36 remaining.
After a free throw from Scarlett, Lynds and President made threes less than a minute apart to pull CMS with five at 71-66 with under four minutes on the clock. Whitman's Tim Howell finished a runner in the lane with exactly two minutes remaining to put the Blues up seven at 75-68.
Scott Lynds calmly brought the ball down the floor and rained a three to keep the Stags alive. After Lynds' three, it was big shot after big shot for CMS to keep the Stags in the game. Howell went 1-2 from the charity stripe before President knocked down yet another three to make it a two-point game with 36 seconds remaining.
An empty trip to the free throw line followed for the Blues and Scott Lynds completed the comeback with an acrobatic layup from the right-side to tie the game at 76-76 with 12 seconds remaining. With the Stags holding a share of the lead for the first time since it was 5-4 all the way back in the first three minutes of the game, the Blues took a timeout to regroup.
Whitman drew up a play for Tim Howell.
Howell started his drive from the left elbow extended and worked his way into the paint before the entire CMS team collapsed on him. With just 0.4 seconds on the clock, a foul was called on the floor. Despite not being in the act of shooting, the Blues were in the double bonus and Howell went to the line with a chance to effectively end the game.
Things look meek for the Stags. Howell, a 75.0% free throw shooter on the season, stepped to the line needing to just make one to end the game.
He missed both.
The Stags had new life as the game, tied 76-76, moved to overtime.
Playing in just their second overtime game of the season, CMS scored the first bucket of the opening period with a jumper by Michael Scarlett. The Blues countered with the next three points, before Scarlett stuck again with a jumper 2:27 into the period.
Howell scored the next four points of the game with a runner and a pair of free throws to give Whitman an 83-80 lead with under two minutes remaining. The Stags countered with buckets from Lynds and Scarlett sandwiched around another layup from Howell. Scarlett's layup trimmed the Blues' lead to just one at 85-84.
Two more free throws from Howell made it a three-point margin once again with 20 seconds remaining. Instead of trying to tie with a three, Scarlett opted to attempt a quick two. The senior drove left and drew plenty of contact on his layup attempt, but no whistle came and Howell grabbed the rebound. After a foul by the Stags', Howell finished both of his free throws with just five seconds remaining to close out the game and move Whitman into the Sweet Sixteen.
Tim Howell scored the final 10 points for the Blues in overtime to seal the 89-84 victory.
For the second time in as many year's the Stags' season comes to a close in heartbreaking fashion against the Whitman Blues in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Stags end the 2017-18 season with an overall record of 20-8. CMS claimed their 20th SCIAC Championship and the sixth SCIAC Tournament Championship in program history this season.