Kyle McAndrews PO ’15 hit three free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to give Pomona-Pitzer a thrilling 51-50 victory over archrival CMS on Tuesday at CMC’s Ducey Gymnasium.
Prior to McAndrews’s free throws, CMS went up 50-48 on a Remy Pinson CM ’14 three-pointer with 12 seconds left. Without a timeout, the Sagehens were forced to improvise on their final possession. McAndrews dribbled to the right side before being fouled on his three-point try. With less than a second to go and McAndrews headed to the line, P-P’s fate was placed in the first-year’s hands. As CMS fans roared from their cheering section against the sideline and Sagehen fans held their breaths from their perch in the bleachers, he stepped up and coolly knocked down his first free throw, after which CMS called a timeout. McAndrews followed the timeout with two more clutch makes, and John Weiss PO ’14 stole the ensuing inbounds pass to seal the win.
The three free throws capped a brilliant final four minutes of the game for McAndrews, during which he scored 10 of the team’s last 12 points. To go along with his three huge free throws, he buried a three-pointer from the top of the key, sank two additional free throws and slashed in for a lay-up that put P-P up by one with 27 seconds remaining. McAndrews finished the game as the Sagehens’ leading scorer with 16 points. He shot 4-5 from the field and 7-7 from the line.
The game was tight and hard-fought throughout. After the game, P-P coach Charles Katsiaficas applauded the intensity of both squads.
“Baskets came tough for both sides. The game was a defensive battle more than anything else. Every shot was contested, and nobody had an easy time scoring,” he said. “We and CMS are very familiar with one another. Execution becomes very important in games like these.”
Execution proved difficult for P-P and CMS from the opening tip. In a somewhat gritty first half, neither team distinguished itself until the Sagehens closed with an 8-1 run that gave them a 26-22 advantage going into the break. During the run, standout upperclassmen Evan Zahniser PO ’12 and Donald Okpalugo PO ’13 accounted for the last six of the team’s points.
The second half was a similar story. Many of the pivotal plays of the half were not baskets, but tips, rebounds and effort plays. In a post-game interview, Okpalugo pointed to these sorts of plays as the key to P-P’s victory.
“Jack Klukas’s [PO ’15] diving save off of Evan Zahniser’s miss when the game was tied at 37 was indicative of our mentality on the night,” Okpalugo said. “While many of us didn’t contribute in points, we remained cognizant of the parts of the game that we could control.”
Despite the Sagehens’ focus on doing the little things right, CMS built up a 45-39 lead with 4:32 remaining—their biggest advantage of the game—when preseason All-American Chris Blees reeled off six points in quick succession. Blees justified his regard from the All-American committee, as he had a game-high 22 points on 9 for 12 shooting in 37 minutes of play. Blees’s post moves provided the only consistent source of scoring for CMS throughout the night. During the game’s final minutes, however, Blees’s play in the post was no match for McAndrews’s play on the perimeter. Along with McAndrews’s output during the final few minutes, a difficult layup by Michael Cohen PO ’15 over Blees’ outstretched hand with 1:34 to go was key in the Sagehens’ surge to victory.
If the first-round playoff match-ups go as expected, the CMS squad may have a chance to redeem themselves this weekend. CMS (12-2), who finished in first place despite the loss, takes on fourth-seeded Redlands today. The Sagehens (10-4) play Whittier (10-4), the third seed, at 7:30 tonight at home. The winners of each match-up will face off on Saturday for the SCIAC championship. If both P-P and CMS win, the two teams will once again play on CMC’s campus.
Coach Kat and his players, with their one-game-at-a-time mantra always in mind, expect a battle from a deep and athletic Whittier team. P-P is 2-0 against Whittier this season. Last Saturday, they rolled to a 79-58 victory over the Poets.