By Ryan Graff Student Assistant SID
LOS ANGELES — The Occidental College men's basketball team (10-11, 5-7 SCIAC) has been there before.
So once they trailed by as much as 19 points with 3:57 minutes left in the first half and were still behind by 15 at halftime against league-rival Redlands Saturday night at Rush Gymnasium, even the Tiger faithful wasn't sure if its team could roar back into the contest let alone pull off a comeback victory, 69-66.
But senior forward Kris Montoya — who finished the evening with 16 points, three assists and two blocks — didn't get the message in his final home game against the Bulldogs.
Though he scored just two points in the first half, Montoya recorded a huge block on Bulldog center Kyle Milligan with 13:28 minutes remaining in the game, bringing a crowd of nearly 900 to its feet.
Johnson pulled down a defensive rebound on the same play, and Compagno knocked down a three-pointer just 20 seconds later to pull the Tigers back within four at 44-40. Johnson posted his sixth double-double of the year with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Compagno registered nine points on 3 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc.
The 1-2-3 effort by the corps that has emerged as Occidental's go-to unit captured momentum for Oxy and sparked the Tigers' gradual comeback throughout the second half.
And though Redlands was able to cling to a slight lead over the next handful of minutes, it was only a matter of time before Montoya struck again.
The 6-foot-6 slasher hit a three-ball to give Occidental its first lead of the game at 58-57 with 6:30 minutes to go and then secured the win for his squad three minutes later with a 15-foot jumper in the lane.
"I think we showed a lot of resiliency tonight," Montoya, who has been a force to reckon with in the second half and overtime as of late, said. "We've put in the work all season at practice every morning. We never doubted ourselves even when we were down 19, and we were able to get the win."
Johnson then dropped a bucket of his own along with a pair of free throws to put the Tigers up 67-64 with 2:08 minutes on the clock and, after Redlands pulled back within one, Montoya cashed in on two from the charity stripe to extend the lead back to three.
For the Bulldogs (8-13, 4-8 SCIAC), a last-second attempt from downtown by Alex Rudd was not enough, and Oxy held them off in the two teams' first meeting of the season.
"I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and fight to come back from that big first-half deficit," 26th-year Occidental head coach Brian Newhall said. "Our two young guns played well at the right time in Jay [Miller] and Andrew [Johnson], and our senior [Montoya] stepped up when he needed to with a couple clutch baskets. He was a different player in the second half."
Newcomer Jay Miller and transfer junior Spencer Levy both saw the floor for the first time since sustaining injuries several weeks ago. Levy played just two minutes on a still-healing ankle, while Miller joined Johnson and Montoya in double-figures with an even 10 points. He also catalyzed a full-team effort with defensive intensity, hustle and even took a charge during Oxy's push in the second half.
Additionally, sophomore Samuel Ravetz played a crucial six minutes for the Tigers as a lock-down defender on Redlands' threatening perimeter shooters.
Three Bulldogs also tallied double-digit points. Aljosa Bjekovic recorded a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Ricky Peetz scored an even dozen and Rudd had 11.
Occidental is back in action Wednesday, hosting Chapman — whom they defeated 99-94 (OT) back on Jan. 18 — at 7:30 p.m.