As the Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball team begins its three-day journey at the Lee Fulmer Tournament this week, the players are focused, confident and determined to win. It’s still too early to make predictions, but after a wild double-overtime home opener against St. Thomas, and the Sagehens’ wins at the David Wells Classic last week, fans and players alike are showing palpable excitement for what hopefully can become one of the best seasons in recent memory.
During the David Wells Classic, held over Thanksgiving weekend, the Sagehens played their first game against Dominican, in a beautifully executed game. Po Grant PO ’13 led all scorers with 15 points, and the Sagehen bench outscored that of the Penguins 37-14. The Sagehens also crashed the boards and out-rebounded Dominican 28-19.
Their second contest of the week against St. Olaf was a wild shootout, but the Sagehens were able to pull off a win as the game came down to the wire. Michael Cohen PO ’15 hit a three-pointer to tie the game, and Jack Klukas PO ’15 drained another one to give the Sagehens a 77-75 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the game. P-P held on to win 79-76 and improved to 2-2 on the season.
“They were on a huge run and we couldn’t buy a basket,” Cohen said of the final few minutes. “I had hit a few treys earlier on in the game, so when I had some open space, I just let it go and it went in.”
The St. Olaf game could have turned into another late-game slip like the previous week’s match against St. Thomas, but the Sagehens came out stronger with poise and were able to close out the game. Finishing games will be one of the challenges for the team this season, but the coaches are confident that the players will be better equipped as they gain more experience.
So far this year, coach Charles Katsiaficas has been pleased with the attitude the players bring to practice every day. Their daily practices often evolve into intense workouts that keep players sharp and help them to develop a powerful chemistry.
“So far, this season has been different because everyone who was here last year has matured a lot and our newcomers are playing very confidently,” forward Jake Klewer PO ’14 said. “Chemistry feels a lot better this season and we are playing much better offensively, but we definitely still have a ways to go until we reach our full potential.”
The Sagehens are able to go deep into the roster this year, one of the focal strengths that assistant coach PJ McDevitt believes will help the team throughout the season. One unique aspect of this year’s lineup has been the perfect blend of senior leadership and younger starters. When discussing his outstanding early season performances, Cohen attributed his seamless transition into college basketball to the solid foundation that guards RJ Maki PO ’11 and Evan Zahniser PO ’12 have provided.
“Having two other guards who have played for four years now in Evan and RJ helps a lot,” Cohen said. “I can always ask them questions about plays, or anything, and they do a really good job of making sure we are ready to go for practice and games.”
While players stress that the team needs to work on execution and defense, the developing chemistry and camaraderie among players may be a sign that the team will be able to hoist the SCIAC championship banner come February.