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Caltech Wins Home Opener!

I attended the Caltech men's basketball home opener last night in historic Braun gymnasium, a.k.a. the Beaver Lodge. Okay, it's not also known as that. At least not yet. Prof. Geoff Blake and I made it up while watching the first half.

The Beavers had an amazing first 10 minutes against Pacifica College, with Mike Edwards and Frosh point guard Bryan Joel raining threes as if shooting free throws. The problem was that Pacifica kept hitting layups. I have no idea how a team composed entirely of guards was able to work the ball into the paint so often and easily, but I'm pretty sure Pacifica made it the entire first half without hitting a jumper.

To be sure, their guards were bigger than Caltech's guards. And faster. And generally more athletic. In fact, to be perfectly honest, only a few of the Caltech players look like basketball players at all, at least in the strictest sense. However, the Beavers have no want for hustle and heart, and watching them progress through their offensive sets makes it clear how well Coach Eslinger and his staff prepare the players each week. If you like team ball, fundamentals and...suspense, the Beavers are your team!

Speaking of suspense, with 1:30 to go, Pacifica ball, the game was tied at 60-60. As Prof. Blake noted, one-possession games were the Beavers' downfall all last season. Bryan Joel stole the ball, took off on a fast break, and got fouled on the layup attempt. Joel went to the line for the Beavers' first free throw attempts of the game (!), missed the first and hit the second. Pacifica then worked the ball in low, with their point guard hitting a running bank shot to put Pacifica up 62-61 with 0:40 to go. Caltech worked the ball in low to Alex Runkel, who backed into the post, and...oh crap!...lost the ball.

The ball started rolling between his legs and out of bounds, he reached and grabbed it, tried to call timeout and then all hell broke loose. I don't know what happened, but a very angry Pacifica player was pulled out of a pile of 5-6 players and restrained by his team mates, while Alex walked away to the other side of the court. After 5 long minutes of deliberation, the refs called an unidentified non-shooting foul (I think), giving Tech the ball out of bounds under their hoop, with 6 seconds on the shot clock, 16 seconds on the game clock.

The ball went in to Alex. He passed it to Ethan Boroson. Ethan?! the crowd seemed to gasp and ask in that brief second of time. He had zero shot attempts all game. I groaned. Alex, why'd you pass? But Ethan calmly banked the ball in from 6 feet with no time left on the shot clock. I can still see the calm look on his face as if he were just shooting around alone in the gym. The packed crowd went berserk. Geoff and I were jumping up and down like a couple of kids. But wait, there were 10 seconds left on the clock.

Pacifica's point guard, #1, quickly advanced the ball to mid court. However, the well-coached Beavers were waiting for him and his team mates, overloading the court to his favored right side. He crossed over, dribbled right to the baseline, elevated to shoot and...was blocked! Caltech recovered the blocked shot. Beavers win! Beavers win!

It was an exhilarating finish to a well-played game. Sure the Beavers had too many turnovers, too few free throws, and gave up too many layups to 6-foot-few guards. But they executed a well-orchestrated offense, rebounded the ball well, and won their first nail biter of the season.



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