Stags Fall to Chapman in Tense Overtime Thriller

The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's basketball team’s share of first place in SCIAC was short-lived. How short, you may ask? The time it took Chapman University’s leading scorer to fly down the length of the court to send the game into overtime Feb. 3. 

After defeating Whittier College (12-7, 6-4 SCIAC) 76-70 Jan. 31 to tie the Chapman Panthers and California Lutheran University for first place in the conference, CMS ceded their top position with a 65-62 loss to the Panthers. Chapman (17-3, 8-2 SCIAC) and Cal Lutheran (14-4, 8-2 SCIAC) now both occupy first place with the Stags (14-5, 7-3) holding third.

“We’re going to keep fighting hard, and hopefully we’ll see [Chapman] again in the playoffs,” head coach Ken Scalmanini said. “A lot of these seniors are used to being on the championship hunt, and they are disappointed with the results [of the last two losses].”

The Stags’ only three conference losses this season, each of which have been by within five points, have been to Chapman twice and to Pomona-Pitzer just two weeks ago. Aside from that, their seven victories have come with an average margin of victory of twenty points.

Despite shooting 42 percent from the field and out-rebounding the Panthers 41-31 (including 11 offensive rebounds), missed free throws and turnovers kept the Stags from pulling away in the Chapman loss.

CMS’s last ray of hope was its ability to shoot well from beyond the arc. After trailing the entire first half, forward Jack Ely CM ’18 hit a three at the buzzer to send the Stags into halftime with a positive shift in momentum, even though they were still down 20-24.

“We needed to get back to getting people better looks and playing at our own pace [in the second half],” Ely said.

Ely’s shot sparked a burst of energy for the Stags, who came out on a 14-7 run to start the second half and take their first lead at 27-26 with a three by guard Jack Grodahl CM ‘15. Grodahl, guard Tyler Gaffaney CM ’14 and point guard Scott Lynds CM ’17, who were making it rain from downtown all night, contributed to the team’s largest lead of 44-36 with just under twelve minutes to play.

“In the second half we had better movement in the offense, got cleaner shots and shared the ball better,” Scalmanini said.

CMS saw five of their nine assists in the second half and did a much-improved job of moving the ball inside and out to create open looks. Just when it seemed like the Stags had control of the game, though, Chapman turned on their spare engines for a late rally.

With less than a minute to go, the game was tied at 53. Chapman’s guard Colin Zavrsnick put his team up by one after making the first of two free throws, but Gaffaney came back down the other way for an easy transition layup to put the Stags back up by one. With six seconds left of regulation Ely made one of two free throws to get a comfortable two-point lead. But just as CMS’s dependable leader Gaffaney converted on a layup, Chapman’s leading scorer Zavrsnick tore apart the slow-transitioning Stag defense to sink a layup at the buzzer.

Chapman’s conversion of three-for-four from the field and three-of-five from the line, combined with three turnovers by the Stags, sealed the deal for a three-point overtime victory.

Gaffaney, who played for a total of 45 minutes, led all scorers with 21 points, while Ely and forward Jason Harrington CM ’16 both added nine. Center Shelby Lane CM '16 had a game-high 16 rebounds and Gaffaney also added eight.

Despite the disappointment of Tuesday’s loss, every game is a learning experience, and, as Ely puts it, “These are the kind of games you want to play.”

CMS has a bye this weekend and will travel to take on the University of Redlands Bulldogs (5-14, 2-8 SCIAC) Feb. 10.