‘We were just tough, man’: Cal Lutheran Men’s basketball accomplishes record-breaking season


Photo contributed by Isabel De Souza

The Kingsmen averaged 74 points per game, and posted a 13-14 overall record for the season.

Marcel Hurtubise, Reporter

Kingsmen basketball made program history this season by winning the team’s first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament and making their way to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Men’s Basketball Championship.

Preseason weight lifts and pick-up games were played to help prepare the Kingsmen, and junior center Tommy Griffitts said that the weight lifts and pick-up games were helpful in bonding the team together before the season started.

Head Men’s Basketball Coach Russell White said there were a lot of moments of perseverance at the beginning of the season.

“It was challenging because I think we lost a lot of games I think we could’ve won,” White said. “It was fulfilling because we didn’t stop…the guys kept pushing and kept pushing and they ended up playing their best basketball at the end of the year.”

Junior point guard Devon Lewis said that the team’s defense improved greatly over the season, going from a weakness of the Kingsmen to a hallmark strength.

“In the beginning of the year, we weren’t that good at defense, but we had to make some adjustments and we became one of the best defensive teams in the league, so that really helped us when our offense wasn’t really flowing,” Lewis said.

White said that the perseverance through their adversities was another one of the team’s greatest strengths.

“Going into the tournament we had lost to Pomona twice, lost to Claremont twice and lost to Redlands once, so we were a solid underdog going into the tournament for sure,” White said.

Lewis said that the focus of the team changed as they prepared for the tournament and that they made specific plans to counter each opposing team’s style and players. Griffitts said they had a good knowledge of Pomona-Pitzer and Redlands.

“Since we had just played Pomona right before we played them in the playoffs…we had a great scout on them,” Griffitts said. “We had Redlands’ press down … I think also just our individual scoring: I think myself, Devon Lewis, Brock Susko … all of us can just go out and score at any given moment.”

Despite losing against Pomona-Pitzer less than a week before and having the game at the Sagehen’s home court, the Kingsmen managed to lead on the scoreboard the whole game and win 79-73.

“It was amazing cause we just went to their house previously and lost by a couple again, so just going in there with the confidence that we could win and executing our new gameplan…it worked and we got the W,” Lewis said.

White also had confidence going into the match against Pomona as he said that the previous match against them was close the whole game and all the team needed was a few adjustments to be victorious.

The Kingsmen advanced to the finals against Redlands in a tight game that looked to be going into overtime before Griffitts made a shot with two seconds remaining to put the Kingsmen up by one and win the game with a score of 69-68.

“Six weeks earlier they beat us by 30 on the same floor, but we beat them at our place so we knew we could beat them,” White said. “I think it just goes to perseverance and toughness and grit. You know we came home after Pomona, woke up the next day, drove to Redlands in the snow/rain/sleet/whatever you wanna call it … We were just tough, man.”

Lewis said that it was the craziest college game he had ever played.

“I remember just, coach said ‘go get the ball,’ so I got it. I missed a layup and I looked up and one of my favorite teammates, Tommy Griffitts, laid it in and we won the game. It was so surreal,” Lewis said.

Griffitts said that the game was a “grinder.”

“That game was close the entire way,” Griffitts said. “I think we were just trying to stay focused mentally throughout the whole game and not get distracted by their crowd or anything else.”

In their first appearance in the NCAA Division III Championship since the 2000-01 season, the Kingsmen flew east to New Jersey where they faced conference champions Rowan University. California Lutheran University started out ahead 46-38 in the first half but eventually fell 77-83. 

“It was a different experience for sure,” Griffitts said. “They play a different style of basketball over there. They have a lot of talented individuals that just kind of go and they don’t run a lot of plays…so they had the upper hand and their home-court advantage was good. But it was a fun experience for sure.”

After their SCIAC win, the Kingsmen said that they received a ton of support from the school. During their game against Rowan, there was a watch party hosted by Tarantula Hill Brewing Co., a brewery and restaurant on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.   

“I think the support was one of the reasons that we just kept going,” Lewis said. “The support all around school was phenomenal. The watch party videos where everybody was jumping up and cheering our names was just absolutely amazing to see. As a team, we just appreciate it and we’re glad we gave y’all a good season.”

White said that there are two graduating Kingsmen this year and that they are looking to return just as strong, if not stronger next season.

“We’re bringing a lot of guys back. I don’t think it’s unfair to say expectations have gone up for our team,” White said. “I mean we have some holes we need to fill for sure, but that’s our job as the staff. The guys just need to keep getting better.”

White said that they will have a very tough schedule next year with nine to 10 games against nationally ranked opponents, but is sure it will help make them improve further. 

“Basically everyone who played big minutes and had made big plays for us this year, everyone’s gonna be back for next year, so hopefully we can just repeat what we did, clean up some stuff and keep getting better,” Lewis said.