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February 24, 2012

Sagehens Host Whittier Tonight In SCIAC Semis

Claremont, Calif. - Fresh off a dramatic win over neighboring rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Tuesday night, the Pomona-Pitzer Men's Basketball team will need to gear up for the postseason as it hosts Whittier this evening at 7:30 p.m.

The 51-50 win over CMS, which featured three foul shots from freshman guard Kyle McAndrews (Seattle, Wash.) with 0.4 seconds left, enabled the Sagehens to clinch the second seed in the SCIAC Tournament. Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier both finished 10-4, two games behind CMS at 12-2, but the Sagehens swept the Poets in the head-to-head series and earned the tiebreaker.

Top-seeded CMS will face fourth-seeded Redlands in the other semifinal on Friday night, with the two winners playing at the site of the highest remaining seed on Saturday night.

On paper, No. 11 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and its 23-2 overall record would be the prohibitive favorite, but the four games that the Stags played against Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer all came right down to the final shot, resulting in two wins and two losses.

The two CMS and Pomona-Pitzer meetings were remarkably similar in that both teams traded body blows down the stretch until the last team with the ball won the game with less than a second left. The first meeting at Pomona-Pitzer on Jan. 18 saw CMS guard Tyler Gaffaney make a three-pointer with 26 seconds left to put the Stags up four, freshman forward Jack Klukas (Eden Prairie, Minn.) answer with a lefty lay-up to cut it two and then tie the game (after a Stag foul shot) with a three-pointer with six seconds left, before Remy Pinson went coast-to-coast for the game-winner with 0.5 seconds left to give the Stags a 57-55 win.

This time, the Sagehens had the ball last and came out on top, thanks to McAndrews' clutch foul shots.  Freshman guard Michael Cohen (Tarzana, Calif.) cut a CMS lead to 47-46 with a tough lay-up with 1:34 left, and after a stop, McAndrews gave Pomona-Pitzer a 48-47 lead with 27 seconds left. Pinson almost made it two-for-two with game-winners to beat the Sagehens as he buried a three-pointer with 10 seconds left, but the Sagehens came down the floor and McAndrews was fouled shooting a three-pointer. He made the first to cut the lead to 50-49, and after a timeout to ice him, made the last two foul shots for the win.

While the Claremont Colleges community would love to see a third version of the Sixth Street inter-consortial rivarly on Saturday, defending champion Redlands and a talented Whittier team pose tough competition for both teams.

Pomona-Pitzer swept Whittier this season, winning 66-57 on the road and then playing its best game of the year on Saturday in a 79-58 win. The biggest reason for the Sagehen success in the series has been catching the Poets on cold shooting nights. In the first game between the teams, Whittier shot only 2-22 from three-point territory, while the rematch saw the Poets shoot only 2-19 from beyond the arc. The Poets (18-7, 10-4 SCIAC) have shot 32 percent from three-point land on the season, but less than 10 percent against Pomona-Pitzer.

The two meetings played out much differently. In the game at Whittier, the Poets raced out to a 12-0 lead, before the Sagehens punched right back with a 15-0 run to take a 15-12 lead. The second half saw Pomona-Pitzer use a 10-0 run to turn a 41-38 deficit into a seven-point lead and then held on down the stretch. The Sagehens relied on Cohen's dominant performance off the bench (23 points) to overcome the early run by Whittier and hold off the Poets down the stretch.

The second meeting saw Pomona-Pitzer rely on its balance to pull away for a surprisingly easy win, as six Sagehens scored between 9-13 points. Junior forward Donald Okpalugo (Manchester, England) took the game over for the final three minutes of the first half with seven points and two blocks to turn a 24-22 lead into a more healthy 35-26 advantage, and the Sagehens got contributions from everyone in the second half to build its lead up to as many as 27 points.

Nathan Easterman had the most success against Pomona-Pitzer offensively, scoring 23 points in the first meeting and added 11 in the second. Greg Preer had 16 points in the second game at Pomona-Pitzer, but those points came on just 5-18 shooting. For the year, Drew Menez leads the Poets with 16.8 points per game, followed by Easterman with 16.0 and Preer with 14.1.

All three of those players average more points than anyone on Pomona-Pitzer's team, as Cohen is the top scorer on the Sagehens (coming off the bench no less) with 11.5 points per game. Klukas averages 9.5, McAndrews 8.5, and sophomore forwards Jake Klewer (Tucson, Ariz.) and John Weiss are at 8.2 points and 8.1 points, respectively.  

All five of the top scorers for Pomona-Pitzer are freshmen and sophomores, but experienced seniors Evan Zahniser (Mercer Island, Wash.), Danny Brown (Eugene, Ore.) and R.J. Maki (Claremont, Calif.) are all capable of stepping up with a big performance as well. Junior forward Po Grant (Brookline, Mass.) is also an x-factor as a three-point weapon off the bench.

The Whittier game will be broadcast live, courtesy of the Claremont Sports Connection. Live video, audio and stats can all be found at www.sagehens.com on Friday night.