The Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens men’s basketball team completed a regular season sweep of arch-rivals CMS last Saturday, winning 70-56. The atmosphere was electric in Ducey Gymnasium as both schools packed their student sections to capacity. As the game wound down, PP students kept the energy up by chanting, “We own Claremont.” The CMS students responded with, “We own SCIAC,” a reference to their assured first-place position in the regular season standings. However, the joviality of the Sagehens fans streaming out and the dejected look of the Stags spoke volumes about which ownership meant more that night.
A nail-biting win on Tuesday against Occidental had put the Sagehens into the SCIAC tournament. The Sagehens won 55-54 on a three-pointer by Adam Chaimowitz PO ‘10 with ten seconds remaining. The win put PP in a three-way tie with Occidental and Cal Lutheran for second place, but the Sagehens earned the second seed thanks to a better record against top-seeded CMS.
The game against CMS got off to a good start for the Sagehens, who built an early nine-point advantage. However, the Stags got on a roll near the end of the first half, bringing the score to a 23-23 deadlock at halftime.
After watching their early advantage disappear, it would not have been surprising if the Sagehens came out flat to start the second half. Instead, they played with the same fire and intensity with which they had begun the first half, building another sizable advantage.
The difference, according to Justin Sexton PO ’10, was that “[they] played well throughout the entire [second] half and didn’t allow [the Stags] to gain any sort of momentum.”
David Liss PO ’10 led the Sagehens in scoring with 24 points, shooting 5-10 from the field and 12-14 from the charity stripe. Liss himself was quick to point out the important role that the team’s second-leading scorer, Chaimowitz, played in keeping the team focused in the second half.
“Adam was a huge motivator for us last night,” Liss said. “During a time out in the second half, we had just gone on a run, and it would have been easy for us to let down our guard and coast for a few minutes. However, being a senior leader, Adam reminded us that our little run ‘didn’t mean [expletive deleted]’ and we stayed aggressive for the entire half.”
The Sagehens were able to score 47 points in the second half, matching the same point total managed in their first game against CMS. This offensive explosion was largely the result of excellent free-throw shooting down the stretch by Liss and Chaimowitz.
“I’ve shot thousands of these already in my life. These next few are exactly the same as all the others,” Chaimowitz said about the pressure of the free throws. Given his 9-10 performance from the line, it’s easy to see that Chaimowitz keeps his cool when it matters.
Although the Sagehens starting on the back court starred, especially in comparison to a combined 5-24 performance by the CMS starting guards, it was a team effort that led to the victory. Liss pointed to a “backbreaking” low post move by Shawn Stephan PO ’11 as one of the important moments of the second half. Meanwhile, Colin Reinstadt PI ’10 played excellent defense as always, while also contributing an efficient seven points on 3-4 shooting.
In one stretch of the second half, Donald Okpalugo PO ‘13 maintained the momentum the Sagehens had built in the opening minutes with three straight offensive possessions in which he attacked the basket and drew fouls.
Okpalugo was only 5-8 from the free throw line, but this stretch allowed the Sagehens to extend their lead while some of their star players were on the bench.
Additionally, these fouls put PP in the bonus early in the second half, which led to many of the free-throw opportunities converted by Liss and Chaimowitz later in the game. For Sagehen fans this stretch was also a glimpse of a bright future for the freshman big man.
The Sagehens’ victory over their bitter rivals had a major impact on their standing within SCIAC. Only the top four teams play in the SCIAC tournament, and this victory brought the Sagehens into a three-way tie for third place at 8-5 in the conference, with the home game against second place Occidental to close out the season. The win kept them in the playoff race and ultimately led to a second seed.
Finally, it is important to give a shout out to possibly the most important contributor to the Sagehen’s success: Johnny Depp. Sexton mentioned that, “Even though most of his movies are quite bad, it just so happens that when Dave and I watch a Johnny Depp movie on the day of a game, we win. On Saturday we watched Blow, which perhaps was our favorite Depp movie so far, even though I fell asleep like I usually do. Pirates of the Caribbean is what we will likely watch on Tuesday.”