Photo by: Tony Leon/ActionWestPhotography.com
WHITTIER, Calif. – Saturday, January 21, 2012 will go down in Whittier College History as one of the most historic and exciting days for Whittier College Athletics.
Behind a strong performance by the Whittier College swimming & diving teams in the newly renovated Lillian Slade Aquatic Center just to be capped off by one of the biggest come from behind upsets in men's basketball history that has ever taken place at Whittier College.
The Whittier College men's basketball team came back from a ten point deficit at the half to upset the No. 12 ranked team in the nation in the Stags of Claremont-M-S who came into tonight's contest with a record of 15-0, 4-0 in SCIAC boasting one of the best records in Div. III this season.
Whittier now moves to 12-4, 4-1 in SCIAC and this evening it took them 50 minutes and two overtimes to pull off the upset victory.
Senior Drew Menez is etching his way into the record books at Whittier College for men's basketball and making his name known for Player of the Year Honors in the conference as he again came up big in the clutch knocking down two big three pointers in both overtimes to secure the victory for the Poets. He finished with 23 points on 9-of-21 shooting to go along with four boards.
The atmosphere in the gym was electric the entire night as the Poet Pit came together to make it difficult for the Stags to knock down big shots down the stretch. Menez after the game stated that "the crowd is incredible here in the Graham Athletic Center and the support given to the men's basketball program is outstanding. Dave Jacobs Court is the toughest gym to play in for any opponent".
It all started in the first half as Whittier fell behind early 10-4 and then 16-10. They then climbed back and took their first lead of the contest 17-16 behind a big three pointer and jumper from Brandon Thomas who finished tonight's contest with seven points. The Stags then went on a run of their own to go up 27-18 with 7:15 remaining before extending it to 34-23 thanks to Chris Blees who knocked down four of his team high 19 points. Whittier did however get a jumper from Menez and Nathaniel Easterman just under two minutes but ten points was as close as they would get as the Stags went into the half up 37-27.
Whittier came out of intermission a revitalized team showing tenacity on both ends of the floor forcing six turnovers and exploding for 42 points and a 58% shooting percentage. But it's not how one starts a game but how one ends and tonight's contest was a game for the ages as it proved to be a nail biter all the way till the end.
The Purple & Gold found a spark in the second half as Easterman led a fast break four on one and drew a hard foul on Tyler Gaffney who was later called for a flagrant foul allowing Easterman to knock in two free throws and then thirty seconds later a layin getting the Poets within three.
In front of a fan base of over 800, Whittier then crawled back to get within one at 63-62 with 3:15 remaining. After two free throws from the Stags Mani Maceira, senior Greg Preer came down the court to tie up the game with a big three pointer to even the game up at 65-65. Preer finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting and barely missed a double double by grabbing nine boards. With the game tied, CMS's Blees made a jumper to go ahead by two, but again Whittier came down the court and Preer took it to the hole and drew a two shot foul knocking down both to tie the game up at 67-67 with 1:25 remaining. After a CMS turnover, Easterman then came down and drew a foul and knocked in both free throws to put the Poets up two with :38 seconds to go. After Whittier came up big with a stop on the other end, they then took the ball out of bounds and then turned it over themselves on the inbounds play and saw Jack Grodahl knock down two of the biggest free throws of his life to send it to the first overtime.
But the excitement didn't end there and everyone at this point in time were on their feet making themselves heard and the Poets heard them loudly as they jumped out to a four point lead early behind a huge three pointer from Menez in front of the stands in the corner. After a Blees jumper, CMS fouled Preer to send him to the line to shoot two. After he missed the front end of the double bonus, the Stags breathed a sigh of relief knowing they had another opportunity and they made the most of it as they came down the floor in the waning seconds and put up a desperation shot from the end line that was eventually tapped in by Blees to force a second overtime period.
Starting the second OT, Whittier got down by two 76-74 but saw Menez again come down the floor asking for the ball and make yet again another clutch three pointer from four feet on top of the perimeter to put the Poets up by one 77-76. After another Blees jumper, Preer then answered right back with a jumper of his own to put the Poets again up by one. After yet again another Stag jumper, Kelly Johnson came down and drew a foul and knocked in one of two to tie the game up at 80-80 with 1:58 remaining. But twenty seconds later, Grodahl came down and knocked in a wide open three to put the Stags up 83-80 ripping the life out of the Poet squad for a second.
But then Menez took over and took the ball down the length of the court and drew an and one that got the Poets up out of their seats and back into the game. After Menez's free throw tied the game up at 83-83, Remy Pinson on CMS came down after a foul on Johnson and saw his free throws clank off the rim giving Whittier one last opportunity to seal the victory. After a Coach Carter timeout, Johnson came down the court and drove the hole and laid it in for two putting the Poets up by two. But again the Stags answered right back as Maceira came down and kissed a ball off the glass to tie the game up one last time.
Then with :23 seconds remaining, Menez stuck the dagger in and knocked down one of the biggest three pointers of his life from straight away putting the Poets up by three 88-85 and as Grodahl had an open look for three to tie the game up for the Stags, it rimmed in and out allowing Whittier to preserve the upset win.
Whittier now needs to shift their sights onto a tough Pomona-Pitzer squad who comes into the Graham Athletic Center on Wednesday, January 25 beginning at 7:30pm. In order to continue their winning streak, which has been extended to four games including winning eight of their last nine Whittier will need to build off the momentum of tonight's victory including using the fan support to pull off yet another "W".
Senior (Brandon Thomas)