CLAREMONT, Calif. - After trailing 38-32 at the half, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's basketball team held Occidental to only 19 points in the second half as it captured a big 65-57 win on Wednesday night, completing a season sweep of the Tigers.
With the win, CMS improves to 17-6 overall and 11-3 in the SCIAC, moving into second place ahead of Occidental, which falls to 20-4 overall and 11-4 in the SCIAC. The two teams will meet again in next week's semifinals on Friday, and today's win means that the Stags need only to win one of its last two games (at Cal Lutheran on Saturday, home vs. Chapman on Tuesday), or have Occidental lose to league-leading Pomona-Pitzer, to earn home court advantage for that contest.
"We treated this like it was our last game," said senior guard Mark Sui. "It's important for us to be able to play at home in front of our fans, and make them have to travel to us. We knew this was a big game for us."
After taking a 38-32 lead into the break, Occidental still held a 48-41 advantage early in the second, before a 7-0 Stag run tied it up after two free throws from junior forward Maxwell Kirsch. Jonny Crosthwaite temporarily gave Occidental the lead back, but Kirsch buried a three-pointer from the top of the key off a tip-pass from his brother, sophomore guard Mitchell Kirsch to give CMS its first lead of the second half at 51-50.
Sui found junior forward George Walker in the paint for a twisting lay-up in traffic that found its way through with 7:43 left to give the Stags a 53-51 lead that they would not relinquish. Austin DeWitz scored for Occidental with 6:18 to go to make the score 56-53, but CMS allowed only one point the rest of the way, going on a 9-1 until a harmless three-pointer with seven seconds left made the final score 65-57.
After Occidental called a timeout with 4:44 left and the score still 56-53, the Stags didn't give the Tigers a sliver of daylight, forcing a 30-second shot clock violation. Sui then stretched it to a five-point lead with 3:59 left when he penetrated inside the foul line and pulled up for a short jumper, and the Stags scored their final seven points at the foul line. Jacob Adler's three-pointer with seven seconds left, ended a stretch of seven straight missed field goals for Occidental, and nine possessions with only free throw to show for it.
Senior forward Nicolas Segura Dobjanschi led the way for CMS with 19 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Miles President chipped in with 12 points and Sui added 11.
But the story of the game was the second half defense that the Stags played. The Tigers shot just 28 percent from the floor after halftime (7-25) after a 50 percent first half (15-30). In fact Caleb Yellin-Flaherty led all scorers with 20 points for Occidental, but had 19 of them in the first half and didn't even attempt a shot in the second half until the final two minutes, with President drawing the primary assignment.
Sui said that the team came out of the locker room knowing that they had to get back to their defensive principles.
"The second half we just focused on being there for each other, talking more, locking in together," he said. "We're really good defensively, and we didn't play like that in the first half."
CMS also had a commading 37-22 edge in the rebounding department, with Walker once again providing a big lift for the Stags off the bench in that department. He had a game-high eight rebounds in total in 16 minutes, and kept a couple of other possessions alive on the offensive glass which didn't show up on the stat sheet.
CMS will head to Cal Lutheran on Saturday looking to extend its three-game win streak and secure the home court advantage in next Friday's semifinals. The Stags will next be at Roberts Pavilion on Tuesday night, when they take on Chapman for Senior Day, with the senior class of Sui, Segura Dobjanschi and Ryan Kusch honored before the tip.