Led by a career high 36 points from senior guard Taylor Hamasaki, the Chapman men’s basketball team crushed Whittier 83-66 to advance to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) tournament final.
Fans packed the Hutton Sports Center as the Panthers (22-4, 13-4) battled the Poets (15-12, 9-8) in a game that was much closer than the final score showed.
“We could play much better but we shot the ball well and Hamasaki was magnificent,” said head coach Mike Bokosky. “Our Achilles heel is playing defense and rebounding and tomorrow we’re playing another team that’s bigger and stronger than us.”
In their last meeting, the Poets cruised to a 79-63 victory by penetrating the Panther defense leading to open shots and opportunities. Bokosky said limiting 3-point shots and interior possessions was a priority heading into the semifinal game.
“We have to make defensive adjustments to give our guys the chance to win and we made a subtle change yesterday that gave us the edge,” he said.
While Bokosky said there is room to improve, Chapman’s defense played a large role in the victory, getting 10 steals and 27 points off turnovers. Heading into the half with a 35-33 lead, the Panthers turned to Hamasaki to keep their season going.
Coming out of the half, Hamasaki turned it on, draining two 3-pointers before dazzling the crowd with a variety of step-back jump shots and crossovers. He finished with 36 points on 14-of-24 shooting, a performance that left him stunned.
“Being in that zone is what we athletes live for and practice for,” he said. “It’s like an out of body experience it feels so amazing.”
The Panthers advance to the conference final tomorrow night, where they host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps who defeated California Lutheran 77-51 in the semifinals.
For Bokosky, playing Claremont-Mudd-Scripps will be another test of Chapman’s ability to overcome its lack of size.
“We have to rebound better and it’s really not their fault that they’re small,” he said. “Their mom married the wrong guy and he should have been taller.”