Down to the Wire: Tigers Advance
Down to the Wire: Tigers Advance
Courtsey Occidental College Sports Information
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (March 6, 2008) - Energy. Excitement. Enthusiasm. They all tore through Rush Gymnasium tonight where there was more at stake on the court than would meet the eye by looking at the match up. With Occidental College hosting Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Pomona-Pitzer it may have appeared as just another SCIAC game. In reality, it was not. In round one of the NCAA Division III Post Season Tournament the Tigers erased a 15 point deficit en route to a 52-51 victory at home, earning a ticket to Washington for the second round of play.
After splitting the season-series, with each team winning on the other team's home court it was sure to be a battle, and that is just what it was.
A lop-sided first half saw the Sagehens start things off with a 14-3 run, opening the largest gap of the contest, 24-9, with 5:06 to play in the first half. Occidental wasn't giving up so quickly though, as the Tigers went on a 13-0 run from that point to go into the locker room down by only a pair as 24-22.
The second half saw nine lead changes. At the 13:30 mark Huston Conti sank a three, giving the Tigers their first lead of the night at 32-31. Oxy and Pomona-Pitzer battled from that point until the end with the lead never more than four points for either team.
Trailing 51-47 with 1:57 to play, senior guard Connor Whitman accounted for the final five unanswered points of the game, giving the Tigers a 52-51 victory. Oxy's tough defense in the final 29 seconds sealed the deal for the Tigers, capped off by a Conti block on the final attempt of the game for the Sagehens.
Occidental's second half defense was key forcing six second half turnovers, making stops, getting loose balls and grabbing rebounds.
Whitman led all Tigers with seven rebounds while Chris Pitcher and Chris Hunt finished with six and five, respectively. Whitman and Pitcher each added a pair of steals as well while Pitcher handed out four assists to lead all Oxy players.
Conti and Gyan Alexander were key players in holding the Sagehens to 19-for-55 (34%) shooting from the field. Additionally the Tigers extended their perimeter defense forcing Pomona-Pitzer into a 6-for-24 (25%) three-point shooting night.
The Tigers shot 42.9 percent from the field, making 12-for-28 shots as opposed to 9-for-27 shooting in the opening period. Whitman was shut-down in the first half, but came back strong in the second stanza with 15 points, to lead the Tigers.
"As a senior you can't get down about missing shots," Whitman said following the game. "You have to just keep shooting and hope they go in."
They did that tonight for Whitman and the Tigers. Additionally, when Whitman was being double teamed he would look to and find the open man, dishing out three assists in the game as well.
When asked about facing the same team for the third time Whitman shared, "It is hard. You come into the game knowing what they are going to try to do. It all comes down to execution. Tonight we were able to execute when it came down to the wire."
Pitcher added, "We came out tonight seeking revenge. They came into our house and humiliated us during SCIAC play. Tonight we were pumped up and ready to play and we proved ourselves."
The electricity of the crowd coupled with the desire to win got the Tigers going in the second half for a come-from-behind thriller.
The Sagehens were led by Justin Sexton who was the only PP player in double figures with 20. Jabarri Reynolds finished with a game-high 12 boards. Pomona-Pitzer's season ends with a 15-13 overall record.
Tonight the Tigers, who have appeared in the NCAA Post season four of the last six years, moved one step closer to Salem, Virginia where a National Champion will be crowned on March, 22.
Occidental, who improves to 22-5, will travel to Spokane, Wash. To play Whitworth University (20-6) at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, March, 8 in the second round.