It was a momentous night for the Chapman men’s basketball team as it honored its six graduating seniors and clinched the top seed in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) with an 86-64 win over visiting Caltech.
The Panthers (21-4, 12-4) held their senior night ceremony before the game but quickly got down to business, defeating the Beavers (4-21, 3-13) for a three-way tie of the SCIAC championship crown.
While the win clinched the top seed for the Panthers, the night recognized Garrett James, John Joyce, Jordan and Justin Young, Taylor Hamasaki and Colin Zavrsnick for their contributions to Chapman’s basketball program.
“It’s been a crazy journey, we’re all great friends and are super close which helps because we know where each other is going to be on and off the court,” Hamasaki said. “I’m glad to have done it with them and I feel like basketball brought us closer.”
With a packed Hutton Sports Center looking on, the seniors did not disappoint as Zavrsnick stole an early Caltech pass and raced down the court for an emphatic one-handed dunk that sent the crowd into chaos.
Wanting to share the spotlight, Hamasaki left a defender tripping over himself as he danced in front of him, crossing the Beaver player over before draining a jump shot.
“I was shocked at first, I didn’t even realize he fell until I was shooting and kind of saw it out of the corner of my eye,” Hamasaki said. “I made it and ran back kind of in awe.”
Hamasaki led Chapman with 20 points and backcourt mate Zavrsnick chipped in 17, hitting three clutch 3-pointers. Drawing from the energetic crowd, the Panthers exploded on offense, shooting 54 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.
However, despite the offensive barrage, Caltech never gave up, keeping the score under 15 points for the majority of the game. One of the main reasons the Beavers stayed in the game was senior guard Andrew Hogue, who almost singlehandedly kept Caltech in the game. Hogue finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and two assists but was unable to overcome the Panthers’ shooting.
Another bright spot for the Panthers was junior forward Mike Atwater, who came off the bench with 11 points and six rebounds, getting three-and-one opportunities.
He said playing with the seniors constantly pushed the team forward.
“I love playing with them because they play so hard and they care so much,” Atwater said. “I got so much love for them and just want to win for them.”
For head coach Mike Bokosky, much of the success can be attributed to the seniors’ experience and repetition of fundamental skills.
“They understand the culture, we learn to trust them and they trust us as coaches so that should pay a lot of dividends if you have a senior team,” he said. “Our seniors are very skilled—we’re not bulky or big—we started five seniors and I don’t think any one of them is over 180 pounds.”
Bokosky has said all season long that improving defensive intensity was the top thing Chapman needed to work on. Heading into their first tournament game against Whittier, who beat the Panthers 79-63 on Feb 10., Bokosky said the message was still the same.
“Whittier absolutely demolished us last time we played them,” Bokosky said. “We were never in it in the second half, we couldn’t stop their dribble penetration, they out rebounded us, we couldn’t get to their three-point shooters and they’re a team that’s bigger and stronger than us.”
While Bokosky said the Panthers have their work ahead of them, he’s confident they can handle it.
“We’re just going to have to defend them, we’re a man-to-man defense and are going to have to be tough guys,” he said. “We have to survive on grit and the seniors will, they’ll come out and play.”
Chapman will host the first round of the SCIAC tournament Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Whittier.