Stags Dominate Sagehens In SCIAC Title Game, Advance To NCAA Tournament

The CMS men's basketball team celebrates their SCIAC Tournament title after defeating the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens Feb. 24. (Photo courtesy of Alisha Alexander via CMS Athletics)

The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags (19-7, 15-1 SCIAC) secured their second consecutive SCIAC tournament title and third in the last four years with a blowout 86-62 victory over the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens (15-12, SCIAC 12-4) Feb. 24.

With the win, CMS punched a ticket to the NCAA tournament, where they will take on Whitworth University (24-3) March 2 in Walla Walla, Washington.

Seniors made the difference for the Stags, as Scott Lynds CM ’18 exploded for 29 points and Michael Scarlett CM ’18 added 22 of his own. After the game, Lynds was named Tournament MVP after averaging 24 points per game during the postseason and leading the team in scoring in each matchup.

The Sagehens traded baskets with the Stags early on and trailed 16-15 seven minutes into the game. However, CMS proceeded to rattle off 11 straight points in what would be the first of multiple devastating runs.

“Our coaches prepared a great defensive game plan,” Lynds said. “We were able to establish a nice defensive presence in the first 10 minutes. Our shooting carried us through the rest of the game.”

Offensively, the Stags were locked in, shooting a scorching 56 percent from the field and 46 percent from three-point range. P-P wasn’t out-bodied, as they won the rebounding battle 28-27 and each team had 20 points in the paint. However, sharp shooting by CMS coupled with P-P’s struggles to score the ball kept them out of the game.

“We had emphasized getting defensive stops and rebounding coming into the game, but we simply didn't string together enough stops and buckets on our end to close the gap,” Alex Preston PO ’21 said.

CMS went on a 13-4 run over the last four minutes of the half to stretch their lead to 49-29 as the teams returned to the locker rooms. The biggest difference in the first half was three-point shooting: The Stags outscored P-P by 21 from beyond the arc, burying nine three pointers in the half, more than they had in all but five full games this season.

As the second half began, CMS pulled off their third and final run of the game: a 12-2 stretch that put them up by 30 less than four minutes into the second half. The Sagehens cut the lead back down to 20 with seven minutes remaining, but CMS cruised to the finish from there.

“Much credit has to go to our coaching staff for preparing us so well with such a short turn around,” Scarlett said. “There is a reason they were named the coaching staff of year and keep the Stags basketball program as title contenders every year.”

There was some added excitement entering the game, as it was not only the SCIAC championship bout, but also the third edition of the Sixth Street rivalry this season. The matchup has been a bit lopsided in recent years, as CMS has taken seven of the last 10 meetings and four in a row, including last year’s SCIAC semi-final.

“A Sixth Street rivalry game for the SCIAC postseason championship was special,” Scarlett said. “You couldn’t have written it better as the last game in Roberts Pavilion for the year.”

With the loss, a strong season for the Sagehens came to a close. After opening the season 2-9, the team turned things around at the start of the new calendar year, winning 13 of their final 16 games.

“The development we showed as a unit over the course of the season was tremendous,” Preston said. “We helped one another grow as individual players in order to benefit the team as a whole, whether it was through guidance or competition.”

Added Sagehen head coach Charles Katsiaficas: “We’d strung together a pretty good run and have been playing really good basketball the last three to four weeks. But on Saturday, CMS was the better team. I’m really proud of our guys, the conference season we’ve had, and the team we became this year; but it’s always difficult whenever it comes to an end.”

Both Preston and Katsiaficas made it clear they would be rooting for the Stags in the NCAA tournament and wanted a fellow SCIAC member to perform well on the national stage.

CMS’s upcoming opponent, Whitworth, is ranked No. 4 in the nation and is coming off a buzzer-beating win over top-ranked Whitman in the Northwest Conference title game.

Riding an impressive 16-game winning streak, CMS will head to the NCAA tournament sticking to the basics, Lynds said.

“We'll continue to do what we've done all season: support each other and have fun,” he said.