SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (Nov. 17, 2019) – The Caltech men's basketball team came together over back-to-back road games this weekend, defeating the University of California, Santa Cruz in double overtime in the latter game on Sunday. The Beavers, who scored a victory over the Banana Slugs for the third year in a row, also picked up just the program's second non-conference Division III road victory, excluding the 110 Rivalry game with Occidental College, not technically a countable SCIAC contest. Caltech lost to the University of Puget Sound, 72-62, in the Saturday game.
"Good teams find a way to pick each other up," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "We battled through foul trouble coming off the second day as well as some fatigue. What got us through it was the trip. We became a closer unit over the weekend from the travel, eating meals together, staying together and sharing laughs. Our growth as a unit was evident on Sunday and we'll need to remember how we were feeling as a collective entity."
Sunday: Caltech 71, UC Santa Cruz 68, 2OT
Caltech poured cold water on a Santa Cruz program that came into Sunday's contest having won three of their first four games to start the year. The trio of junior guard Marcus Gee (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica), junior forward Spencer Schneider (Houston, Texas / Clearbrook) and sophomore guard Noah Barnes (Springfield, Va. / Jefferson) carried the Beavers through with each player registering over 40 minutes on the court. After enduring a back-and-forth war of attrition for much of the game, Caltech appeared to have a decisive edge late. The visiting Beavers led by eight points with three minutes to go, but a combination of bad luck and tenacity from the home team allowed the Banana Slugs to tie the game at 53 points apiece in regulation following a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining.
The game's defensive tone continued into the first overtime period with neither team able to fully shake the other but provided an opportunity for Gee to show just how clutch he can be. With the Beavers needing a three-pointer to tie, Gee connected on his last and most significant triple of the game with just two seconds showing on the game clock. The junior's two-way game helped put the Beavers in position to win the game in the first place, leading all scorers with 33 points stemming from 9-of-19 shooting and a perfect 12-for-12 day at the free-throw line. He also pulled down eight rebounds and blocked a pair of shots.
"Marcus was phenomenal on both ends of the floor," Eslinger said. "He took the team on his shoulders in a number of ways today, and I think we saw that with how often guys were finding him. He is playing at an unbelievably high level right now."
When the action moved to the second overtime period, sophomore guard Stephen Hei (Newcastle, Wash. / Liberty) took over. The second-year player accounted for seven of the team's final 11 points and hit back-to-back three's within a minute of each other to give the visitors a two-point lead late. The Banana Slugs scored just one more basket after Hei hit his second three-pointer as the Caltech defense looked as good as it has all season. In addition to the Beavers' core group, sophomore Riley O'Neil (Santa Rosa, Calif. / Montgomery)stepped up in the game's final moments, pulling down the final rebound of the game after Gee denied the home team on a last-ditch three-pointer that would have tied the game.
"I thought it was one heck of a basketball game," Eslinger said. "It wasn't always pretty, but we had a number of guys step up today and make plays. I was especially proud of the guys for listening during the timeouts. They were extremely coachable today and were able to go out and execute the exact offensive and defensive schemes we needed them to. Everybody that played today gave us something and everyone who did not was in it to win it, rooting for one another. It's about the 'we' for us, after all."
While Sunday marked a true road win for the men's basketball program, the Beavers received a boost playing in front of a mixed crowd thanks to some dedicated fans. Hei and Barnes joined Gee in double-figures with 13 and 10 points respectively with Barnes playing a solid floor game with an additional five assists. Hei and O'Neil led the Beavers off the bench with 37 and 25 minutes and both factored heavily down the stretch. Freshman Pavlos Stavrinides (Nicosia, Cyprus / The English School of Nicosia) also gave Caltech some energy off the bench four points and three rebounds.
Saturday: Puget Sound 72, Caltech 62
The Beavers' performance on Saturday set the table for Sunday's win with 15 players seeing the floor against Puget Sound in neutral territory. Gee and Schneider led the way with 15 points apiece, with Schneider shooting 5-for-6 from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 from long range. Barnes, along with junior Michael Li (Bryn Mawr, Pa. / Radnor) drew starts in the backcourt and succeeded in setting up their teammates with a combined 10 assists. Overall, Caltech showed significant improvement over its first game of the season last Sunday and competed until the very end. The Beavers trailed Puget sound by just six points with less than three minutes to go, but the experience of the Loggers began to show late with a series of big shots from upperclassmen.
The Beavers trailed the Loggers, 29-28, at halftime, but did manage to win the rebounding battle, 42-33, over the game's entirety.
Eslinger and the Beavers will have the week to prepare for SCIAC contender Occidental in the annual 110 Rivalry game, set to take place at Oxy on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.