The ball just did not bounce the right way for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s basketball team on Friday, Feb. 28, in their season-ending 54-53 loss to California Lutheran University (19-8, 9-7 SCIAC) in the SCIAC semifinals.
With only eight seconds left on the clock, a bucket from Jason Harrington CM ’16 gave the top-ranked Stags the lead. Harrington was fouled on the shot, but missed the subsequent free throw.
Cal Lutheran’s Coltrane Powdrill took the opportunity and grabbed the rebound off the missed free throw. Powdrill ran down the other end to bank in a contested 15-foot jumper over the Stag defense. Just like that, CMS’ hopes of appearing at the NCAA tournament fell one game short. For moments after the buzzer, fans stood paralyzed as the away team, not the Stags, celebrated in the Ducey Gymnasium court.
CMS was plagued with missed free throws from the beginning of the game, which they started off going one-for-four from the line, allowing Cal Lutheran to build a 12-1 lead in the first seven minutes. The Kingsmen, seeded fourth, were hungry for revenge after falling twice to the Stags 66-58 and 77-56 earlier in the season, and they came ready to play.
“They jumped on us early and put us back on our heels,” head coach Ken Scalmanini said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They really came out in that first four minutes, and we were now chasing them.”
Remy Pinson CM ’14 sparked the Stag offense with a shot downtown with 13:40 remaining in the half, followed by another three-pointer from Tyler Gaffaney CM ’14 on the next possession, which put the score at 7-14.
After a pair of free throws from Shelby Lane CM ’16 with 8:12 left, the Stags brought themselves back into the game at 15-16. This was as close as the Stags got to taking the lead before heading into halftime down 22-24.
Looking more like their usual selves, the Stags came out in the second half with more energy, and took their first lead of the game following a three-pointer from Gaffaney three minutes into the half.
After a made jump shot by the Kingsmen to answer, both teams went scoreless for the next three minutes, trading off on steals, turnovers, and missed baskets. Jack Early CM ’16 broke the stalemate with an uncontested three-pointer that put the Stags up 34-28.
Cal Lutheran tied the game back up at 12:48 with two consecutive three-pointers by Arik Smith and Michael Palmer. The CMS defense struggled to contain Smith throughout the game, and he played a key role in the Cal Lutheran win, finishing with an impressive 31 points.
The Stags held on to their lead, which stretched only as far as four points, until 2:59, when Smith converted on a three-point play that put the Kingsmen ahead 47-44. The momentum from this play carried Cal Lutheran for the rest of the game.
With just under a minute left, a layup from Gaffaney put the Stags back within two points. On the other end, the Stags made a crucial defensive stop as Lane grabbed a rebound and threw the ball up to Gaffaney. Smith blocked the shot, putting the Stags under their own basket with 13 seconds left, and Scalmanini called a timeout to draw up one last play.
The Kingsmen, figuring star Gaffaney would probably be the one to take the last shot, denied him the ball and let Harrington get open. Harrington drove from the right wing past his defender. Every fan in the gym stood on their feet while hope was restored in Ducey Gymnasium.
“The ball ended up in my hands, and I took the shot,” Harrington said. “To be honest, I thought I missed the shot because I fell down and I didn’t see it go in.”
While the shot was successful, Harrington’s free throw didn’t fall, and Cal Lutheran’s Powdrill came down the other way to score the game-winning basket.
Unfortunately for the Stags, Powdrill’s shot happened to fall in his favor. Pinson had one last chance and threw up a half-court prayer with two seconds remaining, but the shot fell short.
“I thought [we] fought real hard the second half,” Scalmanini said. “If you overlook things, you don’t try hard, and I didn’t feel like we were not trying. Cal Lu is a good team and they have talented players, and we didn’t play as well as we were normally playing all season.”
CMS, which averaged 63.2 percent for the season, went seven-for-14 from the free-throw line, while Cal Lutheran converted 11 of 12. The Stags shot just 40.8 percent from the field. Pinson finished with 16 points and three steals, while Gaffaney added 14 points. Lane contributed six points and nine rebounds, and Harrington finished with five points, all of which came in the second half.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, obviously, but our goal going into every season is to win the regular season, and we got that,” Harrington said. “It was a great season. I love playing with those guys.”
While the Stags are disappointed in Friday’s result, they have a successful season to look back on. The Stags placed first in the SCIAC, winning the title for the first time since 2012, and finished with a 20-6 overall record and a 15-2 SCIAC record. The SCIAC named Gaffaney Player of the Year, and Pinson was named All-SCIAC First Team while also earning the Ted Ducey Award for leadership, self-discipline, determination, and sportsmanship.
The Stags will say farewell to seniors Pinson and Eric Van Wart CM ’14, while Gaffaney will come back for another year in the 2014-2015 season.