LOS ANGELES — Up by two at home against La Verne with 49.9 seconds to go, Occidental coach Brian Newhall nervously paced the sidelines, not seeing his normal starting five on the court. What started out as eight guys suiting up dwindled down to six when Jake Copithorne (Newton Centre, MA) went down with an injury late and Conrad Liebowitz (Santa Monica) fouled out with 3 minutes left.
A new group took the floor with the game's outcome critical to Oxy staying in the hunt for the SCIAC's final playoff spot.
Surprised for a quick second to find himself wide open with the ball, with no hesitation Nick Wright drilled a 21 footer, his only points of the game, to put the Tigers up by five en route to a 65-58 win in the biggest play of his career at Oxy thus far.
"I knew I wasn't the first option, and I saw the shot clock winding down, and they weren't guarding me, but I didn't even think about it," Wright said. "I just put it up, and the second I shot it, I knew it was going in. It felt great and exciting that we were able to pull away with the win."
Trailing by no more than eight points throughout the game, Oxy (5-5; 9-11) finally evened things up at 52 on a deep three by Kris Montoya (Portland, Ore.) with 4:52 remaining.
Oxy then took the lead for the first time on a turnaround jumper by McCoy, and Montoya's free-throws extended the advantage to four.
When Liebowitz fouled out, La Verne's (2-8; 5-16) 6-foot-6 all-SCIAC performer Austin Napolitano, who reached 1,000 career points early on in the first half, hit both of his free-throws to bring the Leopards within two. He finished with 16 points.
After several back and forth fouls and free-throws, Jack Hanley (Seattle) took a momentum-changing charge with 1:20 to go against Trevor Woodland, erasing a must-score opportunity for the visiting team down by two.
La Verne was forced to foul, and Oxy made free-throws to close the game, beating the Leopards for the second time this season in another close match, escaping with a two-point win on the road early this season.
Though at times struggling to finish on the offensive end, Oxy's defense forced Woodland into an uncharacteristic 5-24 shooting night for 13 points. Jonathan Bastos helped out with 11 points, and Jake Veith dished out seven assists, but to no avail.
"We hung in," Newhall said. "We missed some easy shots, we were up and down, and we were down to so few players, but we hung around. I'm very happy for Nick stretching the lead. It was a smart play."
Hanley led all scorers with 20, and McCoy had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Montoya chipped in with 11 points, and Liebowitz added nine points and six boards.
The Tigers will take on Whittier on the road Saturday at 7 p.m.
"We're down to six guys now, possibly, and Saturday we're going to face forty minutes of pressure," Newhall said. "We're underdogs in our remaining four games, but we will enjoy tonight's game and try to get healthy and ready for Saturday."