With the memory of Feb. 8’s 94-77 defeat against Redlands — in which Pomona-Pitzer was outscored 63-45 in the second half — fresh in their minds, the P-P men’s basketball (22-5, 13-3 SCIAC) team showed up to the SCIAC championship game ready to go.
The preparation showed — the back-to-back SCIAC champions took down the No. 2 Bulldogs in convincing fashion, prevailing 87-66.
“We actually lost to them the last time that we played them, and they just outhustled us, they outrebounded us, they shot better than us,” James Kelbert PO ’20 said. “So our mindset going into this was essentially ‘don’t let that happen again.’ Even though we had some guys injured last time, the biggest thing for us was to get going right from the tip.”
The Sagehens’ high-powered offense came running out of the gates, establishing a 19-point margin within the first 10 minutes and leading by as much as 27 throughout the game.
Tournament MVP and SCIAC Player of the Year Micah Elan PZ ’20 — who also became P-P’s all-time leading scorer in the semifinal game against Occidental — led the charge for the Hens, putting up 22 points, five rebounds and six assists.
Adam Rees PO ’20 also stuffed the statsheet for the Hens. The senior forward recorded 18 points, seven boards and six assists on 11-of-12 from the foul stripe, including several important free throws down the stretch.
Though Redlands was able to cut the deficit to 14 and full-court pressed P-P in the second half, the Hens maintained their composure, and only turned the ball over six times the entire game.
“What we need to do is … make sure we take care of the ball night in and night out,” Kelbert said.
“And we knew — we scouted them — we knew that they were gonna pressure us — they have a specific defense for that — so the biggest thing that we wanted to do was make sure that we were controlled in every single pass that we made, and we wanted to essentially make sure that we were taking care of the ball.”
The night before, P-P took down No. 4 Oxy 60-50 in a defensive battle that saw each team shooting only 32.1 percent from the field.
“We got a little stagnant moving on offense,” Jack Boyle PZ ’20 said. “A lot of times we just kind of waited for Micah, our point guard, to just do something. A lot of guys were just standing around. A little bit better ball movement would have been nice, especially at the end when it was getting close.”
Elan and Alex Preston PO ’21 led the Hens in scoring, putting up 17 points apiece. Preston also added 13 rebounds and provided a strong inside presence on the defensive end.
Coming off the bench, Brendan Mora PO ’23 grabbed 10 big rebounds, three offensive, in only 12 minutes of play.
Though P-P led by as much as 13 in the second half, a short run by the Tigers brought the game to within four points with six minutes remaining in regulation. However, coming out of a timeout, the Sagehens halted Oxy’s run, and shot a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the final minute of the game to seal the deal.
The Hens also benefited from their huge size advantage, as they outrebounded Oxy 48-30 and converted off of several second-chance opportunities.
“Whenever they got to the rim, there were a lot of contested layups, which was huge. Offensively, too, whenever we got it in the post, good things happened, whether we were kicking it out or we were getting layups,” Boyle added.
In the other semifinal game, Redlands and No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (19-7, 11-5 SCIAC) went down to the wire, but the Bulldogs ultimately came out on top in nail-biting fashion 68-66.
The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Stags saw 11 lead changes, and neither team ever led by more than six.
“It was a very tough, very hard-fought game,” Jeremy Horn CM ’20, who finished the game with 10 points and eight boards, said. “Every time we play Redlands, they play super, super hard. … It was close all the way through the game. … Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the stops we needed at the end of the game.”
With CMS trailing 63-68 with a minute left in the game, Miles President HM ’20 converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to two. On the next possession Redlands missed a three late in the shot clock, but came away with the offensive rebound, leaving the Stags with no choice but to foul.
However, the Bulldogs failed to close out the game, as they missed two free throws with 22 seconds remaining and gave CMS an opportunity to come back.
At the end of regulation, President was able to get off a clean shot, but narrowly missed the game-winning three-point attempt, finding back iron instead.
“We couldn’t get timely stops when we needed to,” Horn added. “When we did stop them, they also got offensive rebounds at very inopportune times.”
Despite the loss, Horn is proud of the effort the Stags put into each game, especially on the defensive end.
“We weren’t always the most offensively talented team, but we always controlled what we can control,” he said. “So we always showed up and played incredibly hard. We always d’ed up. Obviously I’m not thrilled with how our season ended, but I’m proud of my team.”
P-P will next head to Atlanta to take on Centre College March 6 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where they hope to “make a deep run,” Kelbert said.
The Sagehens will keep in mind what they learned from last year’s second-round exit against Whitman as they enter the tournament for the second year in a row.
“Whenever you play a team at their home, especially in the NCAA Tournament, like we did with Whitman last year, it’s a whole different game,” Kelbert said. “You have a lot of people come to these games — you are definitely the outsider here. Everything that you’re doing really matters, so you have to be even more focused, you have to be even more detail-oriented, and really focusing on everything like that is gonna make it hopefully worthwhile for all of us.”