Pomona-Pitzer Men’s Basketball came all the way back from being down 16 in the second half, closing the gap to as little as two in the final minute, but could not overcome CMS in the SCIAC Championship game Feb. 25. A night after taking care of Whittier 60-53 at home, the second-seeded Sagehens fell by the score of 60-54 to number-one seed CMS in a rematch from five days prior at CMC’s Ducey Gymnasium.
With 9:42 remaining, CMS’s Tyler Gaffaney ’14 buried a three from the wing, one of three 3-pointers he made on a perfect shooting night, and the Sagehens—down 43-27 after Gaffney’s three—appeared dead and buried. Fewer than ten seconds later, Po Grant PZ ’13 connected on a quick-release 3-pointer of his own. He made two more threes in the next four minutes, and, helped by a three from Evan Zahniser PO ’12 and a pair of free throws by Jake Klewer PO ’14, the Sagehens were back within four with 5:20 left.
Coach Charles Katsiafacas has often used Grant as a spark late in games when the team has struggled to find a source of scoring.
“He’s a real lightning rod for us in that way. He has the ability to deliver baskets quickly,” Katsiafacas said.
In the final five minutes of the game, the Sagehens were never able to get completely level. Though SCIAC MVP Chris Blees did not score many buckets (he shot 1-9), he hurt the Sagehens mightily down the stretch. On several occasions, the Stags fed Blees inside. Intent on denying Blees, who just won his third straight SCIAC Player of the Year Award, easy shots in the paint, the Sagehen defense would converge on the 6’5” super-senior. CMS made P-P pay for this strategy, knocking down ten 3-pointers. Most crucial were the two the CMS starting backcourt hit in the closing minutes. Tyler Gaffaney put his team up nine with 3:33 to go, and Remy Pinson extended the CMS lead to seven with 1:27 left.
Still, P-P refused to go quietly. Michael Cohen PO ’15 answered Pinson’s three with a contested jumper from a few feet beyond the arc, and Kyle McAndrews PO ’15 slid in for a lay-up to bring the score to 55-53 with 40 seconds remaining. In order to keep CMS from running out the clock, P-P had to foul CMS on their ensuing possession. Joseph Anderson made one of his two free throws, which put P-P in position to tie, but Pomona first-year Jack Klukas’ lay-up attempt was blocked on the other end.
CMS did not miss another free throw, and Klewer’s turnover off a steal with the Sagehens down four and the clock dwindling sealed the victory for the Stags.
No Sagehens finished the game in double figures. Klewer had nine, McAndrews eight and Klukas and Cohen scored seven each. Klewer led the team with seven rebounds yet CMS out-rebounded P-P by a tally of 33-24. The Stags got a game-high sixteen points from Gaffaney.
Although the loss was tough to swallow for everyone involved—from the raucous Sagehen fans to the players—Katsiafacas said he was happy with what his team accomplished, both in the game and over the final four games of the season.
“To win three out of four games against Whittier and CMS over a ten-day span [CMS won the conference and Whittier tied P-P for second place] is pretty impressive,” he said. “Against CMS, I couldn’t have been more proud of the guys for getting us back into the game down the stretch. Their effort was astounding.”
P-P finished the season with a record of 16-10 overall and 10-4 in the SCIAC. The team is expected to contend for the SCIAC title once again next year, with Cohen, Klukas and McAndrews returning for their sophomore seasons—Klewer entering his junior year and Donald Okpalugo PO ’13 entering his senior season. This past week Klukas was named to the All-SCIAC first team and given the honor of SCIAC newcomer of the year.
The seniors, however, will not be forgotten. Of the four-man senior class, Katsiafacas said, “Daniel [Brown PO ’12] and RJ [Maki PO ’11] and Evan did a great job in actual on-court performance, but along with that, there was a real leadership quality among that group. Greg [Wright PO ’12] was hurt for much of the season, and my heart goes out to him.”
CMS advances to play St. Thomas, the defending Division III national champions, March 2. It will not be St. Thomas’s first match-up against a Claremont school this season. They beat P-P in overtime at Voelkel in November.