The Chapman men’s basketball team took the court last week with a chance to repeat as Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) regular season champions for the first time since joining the conference in 2012.
The Panthers did exactly that by defeating California Lutheran University 87-72 Feb. 17, and then defeating the California Institute of Technology 64-62 Feb. 29. The win over Cal Lutheran cemented the Panthers as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament that begins Friday.
“Coming from a similar successful program in Seattle, I love the feeling of winning,” said junior guard Luke Hamlin, who transferred from Seattle University before the season. “The hours of practice begin to pay dividends at this point in the year. We see the potential we have as a team and we want to continue our momentum into the SCIAC tournament.”
Going into Saturday, Chapman (18-5, 12-3) had already clinched the conference title by virtue of its 2-0 head-to-head record over second-place Whittier College (14-10, 9-6), the only team which could have matched the Panthers’ record.
The win also establishes that the conference tournament will be played on the Panthers’ home court, the Hutton Sports Center.
Hamlin, who had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists Feb. 17, and 15 points on Saturday, emphasized the importance of continuing to play hard going into the tournament.
“We want to remain hot going into tournament play,” Hamlin said. “We take each practice as an opportunity to get better. We still have two major goals ahead of us, but the process is what has led this team to where we currently are.”
Head Coach Mike Bokosky said that there’s a reason that this team has been more successful than some of his other teams in years past.
“This group here, it sounds kind of funny, but they actually like each other,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a formula for success or not, but there was no animosity or jealousy. There’s competitiveness, but there’s a lot of commonality in that they all share common goals.”
He also added that they cannot afford to get complacent, especially at this late point in the season.
“The complacence is something that every team in America deals with. Everyone fights it. But I’m a believer that you’re in charge of your own destiny, so it’s up to us,” Bokosky said.
On Saturday, Cal Lutheran (9-12, 5-9) held Chapman to a single-digit first half lead, but Chapman broke away in the second half. The Panthers shot 69.6 percent (16-for-23) from the field and converted on three of their four 3-point attempts in the second half.
Chapman was bolstered by the performance of sophomore forward James Taylor, who had 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds on the night, earning his second double-double of the season.
“I just tried my best to not let the scoreboard influence my game and to keep playing hard,” Taylor said. “We kept reminding each other in-between plays and in timeouts that we need to stay focused.”
Cal Tech (9-15, 7-8) gave Chapman an even tougher game on Feb. 20, as neither team led by more than six at any point, but led by senior forward Davis Dragovich’s 17 points, the Panthers were able to hold off the Beavers and earn a road victory.
“We’re in a good place, but we still have to win these two games,” Bokosky said. “That’s been our goal. I’m not an optimist or pessimist, I’m a realist. We want to win more games then we lose, we want to make the conference tournament and we want to win the conference tournament. I think that’s a realistic goal for us.”
Chapman has one regular season game remaining: Feb. 23 at home against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (12-11, 7-8) at 7:30 p.m. The conference tournament will begin on Friday, Feb. 26.