For the second time in three years, the Chapman men’s basketball team has won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and will advance to the NCAA Tournament after securing a 71-69 victory over the University of Redlands Bulldogs (14-13, 9-7) Saturday night.
Freshman guard Cam Haslam knocked down two crucial free throws with just two seconds remaining to help the Panthers secure a win in a game where Chapman never led by more than eight points. To get to Saturday night’s conference final, Chapman (20-6, 12-4) had to beat the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags (13-12, 8-8) on Friday night, and did so in a 71-61 victory.
“I think that going into both games, we knew they were going to be games that went down to the wire,” said Assistant Coach Dan Krikorian. “Redlands in particular was doing really well. They have a couple all-conference payers and every time we made a run, they answered.”
Chapman and Redlands exchanged leads for much of the second half, as neither led by more than two points in the final 10 minutes. Chapman’s free throw shooting was a huge difference, with the Panthers scoring eight more free throws than the Bulldogs.
Haslam led the way, scoring 12 of his 21 points on the night in the second half. Six of his points came from free throws, including the game-winning pair of free throws which secured the victory.
“Anything you can say about (Haslam) doesn’t do him justice,” Krikorian said. “For a freshman to do what he did is pretty incredible. It really shows what type of player he is to knock down those free throws and that big shot in that situation.”
Chapman shot just 42.6 percent on the night compared to Redlands, which shot 50.8 percent. The Panthers were, however, able to pull in 15 offensive rebounds, helping Chapman to a crucial 13-point advantage in second chance points over Redlands.
“We haven’t been a great rebounding team all year and we know in order to win games consistently we need to rebound well,” said junior guard Luke Hamlin. “Our guards are doing a better job helping out the post players with rebounding duties. It allows us to fast break and play our quick speed of offense.”
Hamlin had 10 points and eight rebounds on the night. Sophomore forwards James Taylor and sophomore guard Rob Nelsen both finished in double figures, with 12 and 10 points respectively.
In the previous night’s semifinal, Chapman hosted Claremont and jumped out to an early 13-4 lead, never trailing in the game.
Haslam scored 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Nelsen also added 15 points, going 6-for-7 from the free throw line.
The closest the Stags got was within five points with 43 seconds remaining, the Panthers hit five free throws to put the game away.
“We had a defensive mindset against Claremont that helped us a lot,” Nelsen said. “They are a tough team to play against because of their style of offense, but we were all determined after losing earlier in the week to come out and play with a lot of energy.”
Chapman will find out its NCAA Tournament opponent on Feb. 29 at 9:30 a.m.
“Moving forward, we need to play our tempo and defend every possession with a tough mindset,” Nelsen said. “Coach Bokosky has harped at us all year about having a tough mentality, and it is crucial we play with toughness against the talented teams in the tournament.”
Krikorian added that the team’s senior leadership, namely forwards Davis Dragovich and Mike Atwater, have, and will continue, to keep the team motivated in the national tournament.
“The guys are excited to compete and hopefully win some games. Dragovich and Atwater have been great leaders, keeping our guys focused and excited all throughout the season,” he said. “It has been a good mix with them and the younger guys.”