Stags Tested in Final Regular Season Wins

Despite slow starts, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s basketball team finished strong to cap off a 15-1 league record with wins over California Lutheran University (18-7, 9-7 SCIAC) and Whittier College (11-14, 5-11 SCIAC) this week.

On Saturday, Feb. 22, the Stags traveled to Cal Lutheran and defeated the Kingsmen 77-56. CMS and Cal Lutheran traded baskets for the first six minutes of the game until Tyler Gaffaney CM ’14 hit a three to put the Stags ahead 14-13 with 14:32 remaining in the half. From that point on, the Stags took control of the game, and entered halftime with a dominant 45-25 lead.

In the second half, CMS continued to share the ball as 10 different Stags earned buckets. Gaffaney led the way with 23 points, Remy Pinson CM ’14 added 14, and Jason Harrington CM ’16 contributed 10. Nick Lund CM ’16 also added nine rebounds. Shelby Lane CM ’16 put up his first double-double this year, with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

With strong end-of-season performances like this, it is clear that the sophomore has stepped up his game.

“With the end of the regular season and the SCIAC tournament in mind, my mindset has changed," Lane said. "To realize our true potential as a team, I need to step up and have a bigger role offensively and defensively.”

The Stags out-rebounded their opponents 39-25, and put up 15 second-chance points. They shot 61.2 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from beyond the arc, and limited Cal Lutheran to just 32.7 percent from the field.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Stags narrowly escaped a late run by Whittier for their last conference game, beating them on the road 55-54.

Again, the Stags began this game trading baskets with Whittier for the first eight minutes until a three-point conversion by Lane put the Stags up 12-10 with 12:03 left in the half. Scott Lynds CM ’17 knocked down a three-pointer to give CMS its biggest lead of 11 points with 4:39 left, but the Poets went on a late surge to close the half down just 30-26.

The Stags did not have their best night offensively, shooting 40.7 percent for the game, but they stayed in control because of their efforts on defense and their hustle while crashing the boards.

“We played good defense and rebounded the ball really well," head coach Ken Scalmanini said. "We got over 40 percent of our shots back.”

CMS out-rebounded Whittier 41-34. Whittier also played good defense against the Stags and forced 11 turnovers, seven of which came in the first half.

At the start of the second half, Whittier continued to stay tight with CMS, never letting the Stags go up by more than 10. The Stags’ last big lead was with 5:31 remaining, when the score was 54-46. With 1:26 left in the game, Whittier’s Tyree Landrum sparked the Poet offense with a huge dunk that brought them within two points.

After the Poets tied the game 54-54, CMS turned the ball over with 17 seconds left to play, but a missed layup cost Whittier a chance to take the lead. They resorted to fouling Pinson with seven seconds on the clock in the backcourt.

The pride of the Stags, who shot a poor 41.7 percent from the line for the game, lay in the hands of Pinson, who was able to knock down the second of two free throws. Whittier had enough time to get off one more shot, but a missed three-point attempt at the buzzer allowed the Stags to walk out with the one-point victory.

Gaffaney led CMS with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Lane added 11 points and five rebounds. Lynds and Pinson finished with 10 and seven points, respectively.

While most teams ended their seasons this week, four teams returned to practice to prepare for the SCIAC tournament this coming weekend. The Stags are excited to play in the tournament, but also conscious that any loss from here onward will end their season.

“We would love to win the last official two games in Ducey Gymnasium,” Lane said. “[My goal is] to leave the gym thinking I played the best I could play. I want to leave it all on the court.”

With the conference title already in hand, the Stags now hope to win the tournament title and make it back to the Division III NCAA tournament, in which they competed in 2012. But the team is focusing on their next game first.

“We can’t get caught up in looking ahead," Scalmanini said. "We need to play each possession.”

The Stags will enter the SCIAC tournament this weekend as the No. 1 seed. They host Cal Lutheran for the first round today, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Ducey Gymnasium. If the Stags win, they will face either Pomona-Pitzer or Chapman University for the SCIAC Championship on the night of Saturday, March 1. The team that takes the title will earn a ticket to the NCAA tournament in Virginia.