LOS ANGELES — A frantic rally from the Caltech University men's basketball team came up a little short Wednesday evening as the visiting Beavers fell to Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference archrival Occidental, 78-71.
The defeat came despite the Beavers (1-13 overall, 0-5 in conference) overcoming a 15-point second-half deficit, in part, behind career-high efforts from senior guard Collin Murphy and senior center Alex Runkel, who scored 16 and 15 points, respectively.
“I was very proud of the effort tonight. To come back from a large deficit is always difficult,” Beavers Coach Oliver Eslinger said. “It takes a lot of energy to rebound and unfortunately we just ran out at the end.”
Caltech trailed only 72-70 after an up-and-under bucket from Runkel with 2:48 remaining.
After the basket, the Beavers forced a defensive stop, but didn’t score on their next offensive possession.
The break allowed Occidental sophomore guard Ryan Chong to throw a tear drop off the glass with 2:09 remaining to put the Tigers back up by four, 74-70.
Chong’s field goal was followed by another miss by the Beavers on offense and a subsequent tear drop layup from guard Chad Tanioka that propelled the Tigers to a six-point lead with 1:10 left.
Unfortunately for Caltech, the Beavers did not convert a field-goal try over the last minute and were outscored, 6-1, during the final 2:09.
“Too often, I have to remind my players and others that this isn’t the same Caltech team of the past. They’re going to fight,” Tigers Coach Brian Newhall said. “I’m not surprised by this score or their effort. There’s a lot of history between these two schools and I’m happy we picked up the win.”
Occidental (6-8, 1-4) took its largest advantage of the second half on a free throw from guard San Stapleton in going up, 61-46, with 11:44 remaining.
From that point, the Beavers launched an improbable 22-7 run over the next seven minutes and four seconds to pull even at 68 at 4:40 remaining after a three-pointer from Bryan Joel, who was assisted by senior Michael Edwards, who finished with a game-high 20 points and five rebounds.
Joel’s three-pointer was the second for Caltech on consecutive possession, while the spurt was fueled by triples from Edwards, Murphy and Joel.
“We knew that if we wanted to come back, we were going to have to make some stops and operate our offense more effectively,” Edwards said. “We started to hit some shots that allowed us to work inside-out and made a run.”
Caltech held a lead for the opening seven minutes of the first half before eventually falling behind, 49-35, at the break.
The turning point appeared to take place at the 13-minute mark as a jumper from Edwards at 13:07 gave the Beavers their final lead at 18-16.
Edwards’ bucket was followed by a three-pointer from Chong (17 points) that gave Occidental the lead for good at 19-18 with 12:43 left.
Chong’s triple kick-started a 12-2 run for the Tigers, which was aided by five points from Chong and was capped with 9:48 remaining on layup from senior guard Eric Leider (team-high 18 points) that pushed the Tigers ahead 28-20.
Caltech did battle back with four points quickly in slicing its deficit to four and keeping the margin between four to six points until the four-minute mark.
That’s when the Tigers again created separation, this time advancing a 33-30 advantage with 4:15 to go into an 11-point edge behind consecutive three-pointers from Chong and Sebastian Ohara-Saft followed by a turn-around jumper from Chong that put Occidental ahead, 41-30, with 3:40 left in the half.