Despite a heroic comeback, the second-seeded CMS men’s basketball team (19-7, 13-3 SCIAC) came up short against the third-ranked Occidental Tigers (22-5, 12-4 SCIAC) in overtime of the SCIAC semifinals Feb. 22, with a spot in the championship on the line.
Entering the tournament as two-time defending SCIAC champions, forward Ryan Kusch HM ’19 said the Stags had high hopes. However, a resilient effort from Occidental, which CMS had narrowly beat twice during the regular season, made another conference title impossible.
That isn’t to say, though, that this season was a failure for the Stags.
Five seniors graduated from the team last year, including two-time SCIAC Player of the Year Michael Scarlett CM ’18, which left the Stags unsure how to navigate a team full of fresh faces and many young players.
“We had to replace a lot of people, but I think everyone did a good job of preparing during the off-season and really stepping up,” Kusch said.
Because of this, according to Kusch, the Stags weren’t picked as a strong contender within the SCIAC during the pre-season, despite previous seasons’ dominance. They exceeded these expectations by finishing second in the SCIAC during the regular season, he said.
Kusch said the Stags ultimately learned how to work together, largely relying on their defense. CMS currently leads the nation in fewest points allowed per game at 60.2.
Players said the team’s ability to bounce back during games was another crucial factor to their regular season success.
“One of the biggest strengths this season was our resilience, being able to overcome early deficits and not put our heads down,” Miles President HM ’20 said. President was recently chosen to the All-SCIAC second team.
The Stags showcased their resilience down to very end, as they stormed back to force overtime against Oxy. With two minutes left in regulation, they trailed the Tigers by nine points, but a series of three consecutive three-pointers by President, Mitchell Kirsch CM ’21 and Mark Sui CM ’19 sent the game into overtime.
The game was tied with three seconds remaining in overtime, until a last-second shot from Oxy’s Austin Dewitz sunk the Stags.
The loss made the seniors’ final game much more emotionally charged than they were expecting, Kusch said.
“It was a sad moment because we wanted to win, we expected to move forward in the SCIAC tournament and past the tournament,” he said. “But after [the game] I just spent time reflecting on different moments, whether it’s the last time walking off the court, last time in the locker room. All of those moments.”
Although they failed to win the SCIAC tournament title, the Stags still consider the year to be a successful one, as they only lost three regular season conference games: two to Pomona-Pitzer and one to Whittier.
“Going into it we always expected to win, and unfortunately that wasn’t the case. One game doesn’t define the success of our season,” Kusch said.
The Stags are optimistic going into next season, looking to a strong returning lineup as well as multiple talented underclassmen, according to both Kusch and President.
“We have a lot of young players who may not have gotten that much time and will be able to step into larger roles,” Kusch said. “ I expect future success, and hopefully a better ending to future years than we had this year.”