The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s basketball team kept their perfect record intact this past week, earning wins over Whittier College and Occidental College.
With a deep bench, evident team chemistry, and complete focus, it’s no wonder that the Stags are undefeated in SCIAC. Currently sitting at the top of the conference with an undefeated record, the Stags will have to rely on focus and preparation to reach their ultimate goal of bringing home the title.
Head coach Ken Scalmanini keeps his team focused on preparation, one game at a time. He knows they have a big target on their backs, and every team hopes to knock them off the top.
“Everyone’s going to challenge us the rest of the way. We need to be ready each and every game,” Scalmanini said. “We have to treat Wednesday like Saturday and Saturday like Wednesday.”
“Our coach does an excellent job keeping us focused on the day-to-day activities,” team captain Remy Pinson CM ’14 said. “We have to take each game as its own entity and win that one. And that’s what we do.”
Beginning this week with a win over Whittier last Saturday, CMS did just that. The Stags defeated Whittier at home 87-67. The Poets’ full-court pressure proved no big threat for the Stags, who easily broke the trap. Getting up 23-9 with 11:09 left, the Stags continued to control the tempo and took a 45-30 lead into half time.
The Stag offense, led by Pinson and Tyler Gaffaney CM ’14, went 52.5 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three-point range. Pinson shot 8-11 from beyond the arc, finishing with 26 points, while senior Gaffaney led with 28 points, finishing 10-13 from the field and 7-8 in free-throws. The Stags’ tenacious defense forced Whittier into 14 turnovers that led to 20 points.
Following suit and focusing on one game at a time, CMS used two days of practice to prepare for their next game against Occidental.
On Wednesday, the Stags improved to 10-0 by defeating the Tigers 83-60. The Stags came out slow in the first half, letting Occidental stay close behind with a score of 35-28 going into half time. In the locker room, Coach Scalmanini told his players to step up their game in the second half.
“He was mad that we weren’t competing hard enough,” Gaffaney said. “He really emphasized playing hard.”
The Stags came out much stronger in the second half to pull away and outscore the Tigers by 16 points. Gaffaney, who had only two points starting the second half, put up 21 in the second to finish with a total of 23. Just shy of a triple-double, Gaffaney shot 10-18 from the field, pulled down eight rebounds, and had eight assists.
Despite Occidental’s attempt at slowing down the Stag offense, CMS easily broke down their man, zone, and full-court defenses to shoot 62.5 percent from the field. Shelby Lane CM ’16 finished with 12 points, Pinson with 10, and Jack Grodahl CM ’15 with 10 points and six rebounds. The Stags’ defense kept Occidental to 37.7 field goal percentage and forced 12 turnovers. With evenly distributed stats and six players scoring at least eight points, the Stags showed that their team is full of many weapons.
CMS takes pride in preparation and clearly has a group of talented players, but much of their success can be attributed to their chemistry off the court, which is obvious during games. Mindset, skill, and work ethic are important for good teams to succeed, but team chemistry is what really holds great teams together.
Pinson, a leader and role model for this young team, sums up his team’s off-court relationship.
“I’ve always thought of teams as a family dynamic where you don’t have to adore everyone, but you have to know when worst comes to worst you love each other,” Pinson said. “Everyone knows the next guy is a dear friend and they would do anything for them. Our team chemistry off the floor contributes to our winning attitude on the floor.”
This trusting bond, accompanied with the focus of living in the moment, keys into the success of the Stags, who will face their next challenge this Saturday.
Pomona-Pitzer will host their Sixth Street rivals on Saturday, Feb. 8, with the tip-off at 5 p.m. The Sagehens sit below the Stags at 10-2 in SCIAC. In their last meeting the Stags prevailed 65-59. This will be the last regular season matchup between the two teams, who will not see each other again until the playoffs. With both teams hot off of a win, this game should be a battle for the full forty minutes.
“It’s always going to be a fight,” Gaffaney said. “You know it’s going to be a loud, hostile environment at Pomona. It’s a lot of fun and it will be a good game.”