Kyle McAndrews PO ’15 could only watch as Jason Harrington CM ‘16 hit two free throws and chants of “we can’t hear you” echoed through Pomona College’s Voelkel Gymnasium late in the second half of the Pomona-Pitzer versus Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s basketball game on Feb. 13. The retribution match was slipping away.
The CMS Stags (17-6, 13-2 SCIAC) pulled ahead down the stretch, knocking off the P-P Sagehens (13-9, 8-6 SCIAC) 65-54 in what was their third straight win in the cross-campus hoops rivalry—a rivalry that extends far beyond the court.
Harrington’s free throws, which came with 3:25 remaining, capped a 13-0 CMS second-half run that ultimately buried the Sagehens Wednesday night. In front of a packed home crowd, P-P dominated in the opening minutes, pulling away on a 16-1 run, nine of which came from McAndrews. The sophomore guard found ways to get to the bucket all night, finishing with a game high 19 points, but his effort came up short.
After catching their breath, the Stags found ways to chip away at the P-P lead until late in the second half, when Stags’ point guard Remy Pinson CM ’14 took over. In case the memory of Pinson’s coast-to-coast buzzer beater in the two teams’ last meeting at Voelkel wasn’t fresh in the minds of P-P players and fans, he came through again.
With 6:05 left in the second half, Pinson hit a three to put the Stags up 48-47, their first lead of the night. On the ensuing possession, Pinson grabbed a rebound and brought it up to hit another three on that possession. Although he knew the situation, it wasn’t until later that Pinson realized the significance of his back-to-back threes.
“It’s what’s not going through your mind that’s most apparent, because when you hit those shots, it’s really in the heat of the moment,” Pinson said. “At the time it’s a regular shot. You take it and you hope it goes in. You really hope it goes in.”
The Sagehens never bounced back. In the final five minutes, the Stags went 11 for 13 from the free throw line, including two from Pinson. The junior out of Rye, N.Y. finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite a fast start that showed potential for a blowout, the Sagehens struggled to maintain momentum, and the Stags steadily gained. By the second half, the early run by the Sagehens proved misleading.
“It was exciting when we got up 16-1,” McAndrews said. “But coach was saying it’s basically fool’s gold, and it is because being up 15 at the beginning of the game seems big, but it’s really not that much. Later in the game you make three threes and you’re right back in it.”
Head Coach and Director of Athletics Charles Katsiaficas saw the dangers of an early lead.
“Early leads can have a tendency to lull you into thinking things are going to come easy,” Katsiaficas said. “If you let up just a little, and at the same time the other team knows they need to turn it up a notch, that can be all it takes for the momentum to shift.”
While the action on the court dominated the night, many conversations before the game involved a different aspect of the rivalry. Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup, Pomona students received an e-mail stating that fans should attend to “support and cheer for [the] student-athletes, rather than to harass or ridicule the opposition,” according to an e-mail signed by Katsiaficas and Associate Athletic Director Lisa Beckett, which was sent out Tuesday afternoon by Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum.
“There was concern about student behavior in recent games—not [the behavior of the] teams, but of the spectators,” Feldblum said in a conversation before Wednesday night’s match up.
After the last game between the Sagehens and the Stags on Jan. 23, which the Stags won 65-58, student fans from both schools were involved in what Feldblum termed a “brawl,” and both sides participated in negative chanting throughout the game. This controversial fan activity prompted a closer look at the nature of the rivalry between the two teams. In recent years, the administration has made efforts to ensure fan support is positive, and Katsiaficas said the e-mail was a reminder that the administration expects fans to support their teams and not worry about opposing fans.
“I have talked with a lot of student groups about the national culture of fan behavior and how it seems to have shifted from support and encouragement for your team to a lot of attacking and ridiculing the other team,” Katsiaficas said.
He said the e-mail he signed was part of his “ongoing effort to try and keep things in a positive direction.” It included a warning that any visibly intoxicated student would be turned away from the gym, and that “T-shirts with offensive connotations” would not be allowed inside during the game.
“That [disrespectful] culture is something that I don’t like,” Katsiaficas said. “I’d love to see if we can reverse it and get it moving in a more positive direction.”
Few of the chants during the game on Wednesday were negative to the opposing side, and there were no obvious altercations either during or after the event.
Although fan behavior has drawn negative attention in the past few weeks, players expressed more interest in the positive influence that fans can have on these rivalry matchups. When asked about “ELIGY POLR” t-shirts and other controversial forms of school spirit, Pinson voiced appreciation for the underlying enthusiasm more than the message.
“I don’t mind,” Pinson said. “It’s really the only opportunity for people at both schools to have really intense school spirit. At the game the banter back and forth is sort of unique. It’s something that really gets the fans into it. Not only are the players playing against each other, but the fans are also competing as to who is more loud, who’s more supportive, who’s more creative.”
However, Pinson also believes that fan enthusiasm has a clear line that should not be crossed.
“[The chants] have gotten pretty vulgar,” Pinson said. “They’ll throw expletives in there, but they’ve never gotten personal. If they got personal, I think that would cross the line. We’re such a small school, and you have the ability to know personal details.”
As members of teams that generally attract modest crowds, Pinson and McAndrews expressed a great deal of appreciation for the fan turnouts.
“It’s exciting playing in a game that has so much energy and everyone gets so in to,” McAndrews said. “It’s a blast. It really is. We’re all thankful the students come out for it. About the t-shirts and swear words: As long as the fans still show up, that’s all that I care about.”
Pinson echoed a similar sentiment, citing the fact that at most games, neither team draws impressive crowds. As a player, Pinson feels the equation is simple: Having fans in the stands is a bonus that should improve the game atmosphere.
Katsiaficas would rather have fans focus on the rivalry being played out before them as opposed to focusing on opposing fans.
“I think it’s a great rivalry,” Katsiaficas said. “The excitement that it creates, the energy in the gym—it’s great to bring the students from the campuses together. Rivalries create a special opportunity.”