LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Feb. 6, 2008) – Call it rivalry. Call is revenge. Call it the comforts of home. Any way you look at it, tonight crowd at Rush Gymnasium saw Occidental’s team focused, with the common goal of winning. In a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference showdown against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps the # 20 Tigers reversed the results from the season opener by defeating the Stags 59-41.
After dropping the first game of the SCIAC season to CMS by a 55-42 margin, the Tigers were out for redemption, but that wasn’t all.
In a late game huddle Head Coach Brian Newhall talked about the future with this squad. “Tonight isn’t about this team, it isn’t about this game, it is about transformation,” he said. “Don’t get complacent on the court, continue to work hard and be smart as we continue our quest of improving from a good team to a great team.”
The Tigers did just that tonight. They showed change, they showed heart and they showed they can bounce back from adversity with confidence and win.
Although many things changed from the last time these two teams met, something on the court remained the same and that was the defensive nature of the game.
From the beginning it was evident that the defense of both teams was going to play a key role in the outcome of the contest, but no more so than for the Tigers. In the first half alone Oxy forced 12 turnovers, which led to nine points. Oxy was also strong on the glass, grabbing 17 boards to the Stags’ 11. Eight of those 17 were offensive rebounds, which were converted into 13 second chance points.
For 40 minutes the teams battled, but Oxy controlled the tempo from the beginning.
The Stags struck first, putting a single point on the board, on a free throw by Chris Blees.
A determined Tigers squad responded with six uncontested points, taking a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.
Oxy pulled out to an 11 point lead at 22-11 with 7:16 to play in the first half. Austin Soldner quickly scored five for the Stags on their next two possessions. Even though Oxy got the double-figure lead back, but the Stags weren’t going away so easily.
CMS chipped away, with nine points on three shots, pulling within a pair with just over a minute to go. Oxy’s free-throw shooing turned in another solid and timely performance as both Chris Hunt and Gemayal McBride sank a pair to give the Tigers a 31-25 advantage at the mid-way mark.
The second half began at the free-throw line, just as the first half ended. Chris Pitcher hit two for the Tigers.
Moments later Oxy led by 10 with 19 minutes to play and opened another 10 point lead with 15 to go. CMS pulled back within four points at 37-33 with 13:09 to play. The Tigers quickly went on a 13-3 run and didn’t look back.
Oxy closed the door in fitting fashion with two made free-throws by Sean Anderson that gave the Tigers their largest lead of the night at 18 points, which was the final gap.
Overall Occidental players combined to go 16-for-18 (88.9%) from the charity stripe, including an 8-for-8 performance in the first half, while shooting 41.3 percent from the field overall (47.4% from three-point range).
Scoring tonight was spread around, as all seven Tigers who stepped on the court added to the point total with three players reaching double figures. Huston Conti led all players with 14 points while Pitcher and Anderson added 12 and 10, respectively. Pitcher added four steals to his totals tonight as well. Conti and Connor Whitman each made two from three-point range and Gyan Alexander’s three points came on one shot.
Oxy’s defense held the Stags to just 5-for-22 shooting in the second half as they were 0-for-9 from long range. CMS’s defense held Whitman, the team’s leading scorer, to just six total points.
CMS (11-8, 5-3 SCIAC) was led by Dan Winterbottom, who scored 13 and Craig Borgengasser who grabbed seven rebounds.
The Tigers ended up with 33 rebounds to the Stags’ 21 and Oxy doubled up CMS with 14 offensive boards. Hunt tallied a game leading 10 rebounds and Anderson was one away from recording a double-double, with nine. Both players finished with four offensive rebounds. Anderson added three blocks in the game as well.
McBride supplied a game-high five assists as he chipped in with seven points. Hunt, who scored seven points, and Whitman each stole the ball three times.
The overall difference tonight was confidence.
“We were a lot more comfortable with our game plan this time around, McBride shared following the game. “We were able to execute plays and maintain an intensity that we lacked in the opener. As a team we learned from the last time that if you don’t come to play with the same intensity as your opponents, the results are not going to be favorable.”
That intensity does not just show up on game-day, rather it is something that the Tigers bring to the court every day at practice.
What the team learned from that loss early in the season was that everyone is after them.
“As the defending SCIAC Champions we have a target on our back and we have used that as motivation.”
The increase in confidence and incentive to succeed has left the Tigers with a 17-2 overall record, a 7-1 SCIAC mark and a seven-game win streak.
Now, all they have to do is maintain that consistency down the stretch and continue to grow as the post-season approaches.
Oxy will travel to Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday, Feb. 9 to play the Caltech Beavers at the Braunn Center with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m. following the women’s game at 5:00 p.m.