Men’s Basketball Drops Final Game to Stags

P-P Ends a Season of Rebuilding and Reevalution as the Sagehens Look to 2012

I’m not even disappointed that we lost to CMS.

Really, I’m not. This may sound like the bitter post-game rationalizations of a diehard fan, but I just wasn’t into the basketball rivalry this year. Maybe it was because the Stags were #1 in SCIAC and we had just narrowly pulled out a win over Caltech the week before, extending their losing streak to 307 consecutive games and narrowly avoiding the ignominy of being the first team since 1985 to lose to Caltech (that honor would go to Occidental just four games later). Maybe it was because it was so clearly a rebuilding year, and all of the signs were on full display Tuesday—errant passes, forced shots, and weak rebounding. Maybe it was because the teams were playing for glory and not for high stakes—CMS had already clinched the top seed and Pomona-Pitzer had been eliminated from playoff contention before tip-off.

But whatever it was, I didn’t mind when CMS fans started chanting “score-board,” or when, as the final seconds expired, their section erupted in chants of “This is our house.” It was their house—with a final score of 59-44, they were utterly dominant. Recognizing this, the Sagehen fans in the building crossed their arms over their brand-new ELIGY POLR tank tops and remained unnaturally quiet throughout the game.

The Stags methodically worked the ball around, freeing up their star shooters to knock down threes and find easy layups. It was neither a pretty game nor a particularly bad one. It was just, compared to others in the long history of great games between the two schools, very forgettable. On a purely statistical level, P-P was outshot and outrebounded. Star guard Xavyr Moss PZ ’13 had an off night, going 3-11 from the field and 1-6 from beyond the arc. As a team, the Stags grabbed 35 rebounds to P-P’s 24. Only one Sagehen reached double digits.

On a more subjective level, the Sagehens were just outplayed. It was hard to expect anything else from the young squad, many of whom are still acclimating to college basketball and to playing with each other. Just one upperclassman, Pomona junior Evan Zahniser, received significant playing time.

That said, if this was a preview of the men’s basketball program in years to come, it offered many glimmers of hope for the P-P faithful. As a Red Sox fan, I know a thing or two about finding moments of joy in a disappointing season, and about looking to the future for deliverance. And there was no moment sweeter than when 6’7”, 240-lb. Donald Okpalugo PO ’13 threw down with Shaq-like authority over some poor fool from the wrong side of 6th Street. Or when he swatted a meek layup off the backboard nearly to the three-point line. Okpalugo is not just a man when he steps onto the basketball court, he is a force, and his low-post game will be a staple of the Sagehen offense for the next two years.

Moss was another bright spot. His jump-shot and dribbling were silky-smooth as always. Many of his misses came from ill-advised shots and an unforgiving rim. When he gets hot, he is an incredibly dangerous shooter—the archetypical Kobe Bryant deadeye that will complement Okpalugo’s Shaq.

Zahniser also stepped up his leadership as a point guard. When the ball was in his hands, the Sagehen offense functioned noticeably better as a unit. Passes were crisper, plays were well-defined, and he gave up only one turnover in 24 minutes of play. He, along with Jake Klewer PO ’14, made valuable contributions to the Sagehen bottom line, and they will return next year hungry to avenge this defeat.

This game was the last for seniors Bobby McNitt PZ, R.J. Maki PO, and Shawn Stephan PO. They say goodbye to four years of long practices and lonely winter breaks spent in Claremont chasing the dream of a SCIAC title, and move on to bigger and better things. For this reporter and for the entire senior class, it is the last basketball game we will have the opportunity to witness as students at Pomona College. Until the time comes to return as alumni, dust off the derogatory T-shirts, and start screaming vitriolic hatred at CMS for 40 minutes, I guess we’ll just have to look forward to baseball season.

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