After a season in which Chapman’s playoff fate seemed certain, the men’s basketball team future is up in the air as of press time.
The field for the NCAA tournament will be announced at 9:30 a.m. Monday and Chapman will be hoping to nab one of the 19 at-large bids.
Chapman would have locked up an automatic bid into the tournament, but the Panthers lost in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship game to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 71-66 at home Saturday. Chapman reached the conference title game after tying for the regular season crown and defeating Whittier 83-66 at home Friday in the semifinals.
Despite trailing by nearly 20 in the second half to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the Panthers (22-5, 13-5) clawed their way back and had a chance to cut the lead to one in the final seconds, before coming up short to the Stags (21-6, 14-4).
“That’s a special thing to see in a group of guys, to fight back,” said senior guard Taylor Hamasaki. “We dug a hole and that was our Achilles heel, our defense, and we had to climb back.”
Heading into the half, the Panthers trailed 30-26 and neither team had found an offensive rhythm. Chapman had held Claremont-Mudd-Scripps guard Tyler Gaffaney, the conference’s leading scorer, to five points.
However, led by Gaffaney (15 points) and forward Jack Grodahl (15 points), the Stags exploded out of the half, building an 18-point lead that held for most of the second half.
One night after his career-high 36-point game, Hamasaki continued to impress, finishing the game with 29 points, on 10-of-21 shooting. Despite the large deficit, Chapman’s fans fueled the team with energy as the Panthers staged a final comeback.
The Panthers started chipping away at the Stag’s led. Led by Hamasaki and guard Colin Zavrsnick (19 points), the Panthers nearly tied it up, hitting long 3-point shots to pull the game within four points.
Led by 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.”
Chapman crushed Caltech 86-64 at home Tuesday, which moved Chapman into a tie for first in the conference, giving Chapman a share of its first regular season conference championship and its second overall.