CMS Men's Basketball Defeats Whittier, Sets up First-Place Showdown with Pomona-Pitzer Wednesday

Mitchell Kirsch had a team-high 17 points (photo by Kiubon Kokko)
Mitchell Kirsch had a team-high 17 points (photo by Kiubon Kokko)

WHITTIER, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's basketball team held off a late Whittier rally to come away with a 78-67 road win on Saturday afternoon, setting up a big battle for first place in the SCIAC on Wednesday at Roberts Pavilion against Pomona-Pitzer.

Junior guard Mitchell Kirsch had 17 points to lead the way for CMS, which has won seven straight to improve to 16-3 overall and 8-2 in SCIAC, matching the Sagehens, who defeated Chapman on Saturday to improve to 8-2 as well. Whittier slips to 9-10 overall and 4-6 in league play with the loss. 

CMS led by as many as 15 points in the second half, pulling ahead 60-45 on two foul shots from first-year center Rhett Carter. Whittier got back to a single-digit deficit at 62-53, but senior forward George Walker converted a putback to make it 64-53 with 5:10 remaining. 

Two free throws from senior guard Miles President had CMS up by 12 with 3:48 to go, but Whittier was able to respond with a 7-0 run to close to 68-63 with 2:29 to go. Whittier had a chance to cut it closer, but the Poets were called for an offensive foul, and Mitchell Kirsch hit a pressure jump shot with 1:15 left to make it a seven-point lead. 

After Whittier made two foul shots, senior Maxwell Kirsch knocked down another big jumper off an assist from first-year guard Brian Kenyon to restore the seven-point lead at 72-65 with 42 seconds left. Whittier made two foul shots, but Mitchell Kirsch made four straight foul shots, and Maxwell Kirsch added two more to make the final score 78-67. 

CMS was able to overcome a slow start, as it trailed 19-11 midway through the first half before a 16-2 run turned the tables. Walker had back-to-back baskets to jump start the Stag offense, and a Mitchell Kirsch layup made it a 19-17 Whittier lead with 8:43 left in the half. Senior JD Levine put CMS in front 22-21 with a jumper at the 6:41 mark, and a Maxwell Kirsch three-pointer capped the 16-2 run to put the Stags up 27-21. A President jumper capped off the opening half with CMS matching its largest lead of the half at 36-27. 

Whittier got as close as three points in the second half, the last at 45-42, before a three-point play from Walker, a Mitchell Kirsch layup and a President three-pointer accounted to an 8-0 run to put CMS ahead 53-42. A Levine three-pointer made it 58-45, before Carter's foul shots gave the Stags their biggest lead of the night. 

President and senior Jeremy Horn each had 12 points for CMS, while Walker had 11 in a balanced offense. Maxwell Kirsch added nine, one point shy of giving the Stags five players in double figures.  

CMS and Pomona-Pitzer enter the second installment of the Sixth Street Rivalry on Wednesday night (6:30 p.m.) at Roberts Pavilion with both teams tied for first at 8-2, with the winner taking over sole possession of the top spot coming down the stretch. The Sagehens won the first meeting between the teams in December 51-48 on a three-pointer at the buzzer from Micah Elan, making Wednesday night close to a must-win for the Stags in their quest to earn the top seed in the SCIAC Tournament, since Pomona-Pitzer would have a one-game lead and the tiebreaker if it sweeps the season series.