Sagehens Run Away From Whittier To Clinch SCIAC Berth

Sagehens Run Away From Whittier To Clinch SCIAC Berth

Claremont, Calif. – Junior Donald Okpalugo (Manchester, Eng.) provided a big spark off the bench with a season-high 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks to help the Pomona-Pitzer Men's Basketball team clinch a SCIAC berth with a 79-58 win over Whittier on Saturday evening at Voelkel Gymnasium.

With the win, the Sagehens improve to 14-9 overall and 9-4 in the SCIAC, drawing even with Whittier (17-7, 9-4 SCIAC) for second place. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (12-1 SCIAC) has already clinched the top seed, and Pomona-Pitzer closes out its regular season at CMS on Tuesday. A win there, or a Whittier loss to La Verne, would enable the Sagehens to host a SCIAC semifinal on Friday, since Pomona-Pitzer would have the tiebreaker with Whittier due to a head-to-head sweep.

Okpalugo led five Sagehens in double figures, all of whom had between 10-13 points. Sophomore forward Jake Klewer (Tucson, Ariz.) playing with a mask to protect a broken nose he suffered on the final play of the game in Wednesday's 57-55 loss to Occidental, had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while knocking down three three-pointers, equaling his total from the entire season to date.

Freshman forward Jack Klukas (Eden Prairie, Minn.) also had 13 points on 4-6 shooting (3-4 from three-point territory), sophomore forward John Weiss (Cleveland, Ohio) had a perfect day from the floor, shooting 5-5 (2-2 on threes) for 12 points, and freshman guard Kyle McAndews (Seattle, Wash.) had 10. The Sagehens almost had six players in double figures, but freshman guard Michael Cohen (Tarzana, Calif.) had nine, including two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to stretch the lead up to 16 points midway through the second half.

Although the stat sheet was balanced, it was Okaplugo who had the biggest imprint on the game. He had 11 points and three blocks in the first half alone, as helped the Sagehens turn a close 26-24 game into a 35-26 lead at the break with a late 9-2 spurt. He had two of his blocks during that run, the second of which took away a sure lay-up from Whittier's Greg Preer, then he raced the other way and converted an old-fashioned three-point play moments later. He closed out the first half with two free throws when he was fouled shooting a 15-foot jumper with 0.8 seconds left to give Pomona-Pitzer all of the momentum going into halftime.

The second half saw the Sagehens continue the momentum, as they went ahead 51-33 on a three-point play from Kyle McAndews. Whittier, though, answered with a 10-2 run to get back within 10 points at 53-43, when senior guard R.J. Maki (Claremont, Calif.) stopped the run with a bank shot. Cohen then hit a three-pointer from the right wing to get the lead up to 15, and after a Whittier basket, Cohen hit another three on a kick-out pass from Okpalugo off an offensive rebound to make the score 61-45 with 9:15 to go.

Pomona-Pitzer was not threatened again, as it build its lead up to as many as 27 points on a three-point play from McAndrews, which made the score 79-52 with 1:56 to go, before Whittier closed out on a 6-0 run.

The Sagehens were 17-27 from the floor in the second half (63.0 percent) and shot 16-17 at the foul line. Pomona-Pitzer also dominated the glass, finishing with a 45-30 edge, behind 10 from Klewer, seven from Okpalugo and seven from senior guard Danny Brown (Eugene, Ore.). Greg Preer led Whittier with 16 points, but it came on 5-18 shooting, as the Poets shot just 33 percent on the night (21-63).

Pomona-Pitzer will close out the regular season in its rivalry game across Sixth Street against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Tuesday. The Stags have already clinched the top seed, while the Sagehens will be fighting for home court advantage in its semifinal game with Whittier.