Before this past weekend, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball team was riding a nine-game winning streak, including an undefeated January slate. However, the cold weather of February must have found its way to the court, as the Sagehens’ flaming-hot streak was extinguished in a loss to California Lutheran University on Saturday. However, the Sagehens got back to their winning ways on Wednesday, thanks in part to an exhilarating performance from Adrian Brandon PZ ’15. With an important Claremont-Mudd-Scripps game coming up and a recent injury to starting guard Michael Cohen PO ’15, P-P will look for more clutch performances like Brandon’s to get them back into their old rhythm.
Last Saturday’s bout with Cal Lutheran featured a tale of two completely different halves. In the first, the Sagehens were led by Jake Klewer PO ’14, who scored eight points, but featured a potently balanced attack that saw five other players with at least two field goals each. Corey Quintana and Arik Smith, who chipped in 10 and 13 points respectively, carried Cal Lutheran’s scoring load, but P-P maintained control for most of the half, entering half time with a 35-34 lead.
However, when the game resumed, the even scoring attack and solid defense was nowhere to be found. Scores by Cal Lutheran on their first nine possessions of the half opened up a 14-point lead, and the Sagehens never quite found a way back. Cal Lutheran’s lead was never less than nine points after that.
The circumstances entering Wednesday’s home game were uneasy: The Sagehens had just lost to Cal Lutheran, were down a starting guard to injury, and had a potentially distracting, looming rivalry game ahead. Instead, the Sagehens delivered a spirited performance, spurred by Brandon’s electrifying play right when the team needed it most.
While scoring was hard to come by to start the game, the home team played superb defense. A shifty 2-3 zone for the Sagehens denied any penetration for the Poets, forcing them to shoot seven three-pointers on their first eight possessions. Coach Charles Katsiaficas seemed to be letting the first half play out, trying to gain the edge over Whittier College. A glance at the box score showed a 9-1 advantage on the offensive boards for Whittier, providing second-chance points that kept them in the game.
Momentum shifted when Brandon re-entered the game.
Brandon had logged minutes in just three games prior to Wednesday, and had played more than four minutes in only one of them. Returning from a semester abroad, Brandon looked timid at first. However, he delivered an on-target assist from the baseline to a cutting Joe Eyen PZ ’15 that gave P-P a 20-18 advantage with 8:26 remaining in the first half. Two very difficult step-back jumpers for Kyle McAndrews PO ’15 tied the game at 30-30 with fewer than four minutes to go, and for the rest of the half, the team surfed the wave of energy that Brandon brought to the game. In the last three minutes of the half, Brandon tallied an assist, two offensive rebounds, and made a three-point shot. On P-P’s final possession of the half, Brandon shot up like a spring to corral a rebound and draw a foul. He then made both free throws to push P-P into half time with a seven-point lead.
Pomona came out in the second half with crisp passing and cutting. When the offense stalled and Whittier tied the game at 48-48, Brandon once again provided a spark off the bench. This time, two three-point shots and a steal in a fury-filled 40 seconds gave P-P a lead that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. Whether it was a Klewer block that sent the ball into the third row of the stands or a McAndrews shot-clock beating heave from way downtown, P-P found a way to stay composed and in the lead. A couple three-pointers by Whittier in the last half-minute made the game appear closer than it actually was.
Wednesday’s win was a total team victory. When asked about how the team would fill in for the injured Cohen, McAndrews told TSL that the team has a lot of guys who can give good minutes, and specifically praised Brandon. Other key contributions on Wednesday came from John Weiss PO ’14 (12 points), Nick Nordale PZ ’17 (14 points), and Klewer (nine rebounds, four blocks).
The Sagehens now face the toughest task of the season, a rematch with conference rival CMS, who is riding a 10-game winning streak. The Hens currently sit two games behind CMS in the conference standings, and this game could prove pivotal come SCIAC tournament time. McAndrews, however, took a different approach to the upcoming CMS game: He stressed that, although CMS is a great team and it is exciting to play them, the Hens prefer to not emphasize one game before another. The emphasis instead is on improving and growing as a team each game.
Wednesday against Whittier, the team did just that. The real test will come on Saturday.