Caltech coach Oliver Eslinger always envisioned what a wild celebration after a program-changing win would be like, but hadn’t actually experienced one until Tuesday night when his team made history.
The brainy Beavers, after 26 years and 310 consecutive conference losses, finally won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game. And after the 46-45 triumph at home against Occidental, they celebrated with students who rushed the court and dumped water on the third-year coach.
“I always wondered, ‘How does a coach let that happen?’” Eslinger told ESPN.com late Tuesday night. “I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I kind of didn’t want to get out of the way.
“I was marinating in the moment. It was like the world stopped, and the stupid streak stopped, and now we can concentrate on winning the SCIAC.”
Division III Caltech, the Pasadena, Calif., school more known for its 31 alumni and faculty that have won the Nobel Prize rather than producing basketball victories, came away victorious in its season finale after Ryan Elmquist hit a go-ahead free throw with three seconds left.
The 6-foot-5 senior finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, going 15-for-19 from the free-throw line to complete a career previously filled with on-the-court futility. After making Senior Night a memorable one, he’s set to go pro and work for Google as a computer software engineer.
“He’s brilliant,” Eslinger said. “He’s the nicest guy. In my three years, that guy never looked tired. He came into practice every day smiling.”
Elmquist beamed as his teammates hugged the students on the floor and each other after Occidental’s desperation heave from halfcourt missed at the buzzer. Despite shooting only 24.5 percent from the field, the Beavers committed only four turnovers and made their free throws in order to overcome a six-point halftime deficit.
“We know what it’s like to lose,” Eslinger said. “There’s the philosophy, 'Oh, you can learn a lot from losing.' I don’t want to learn anything more from losing. I want to start winning.”
Eslinger, after all, could get used to receiving the barrage of postgame hugs and watching his players grin in the locker room.
Even after finishing the season 5-20, winning never felt so good.
To watch a video interview of an elated Eslinger after the game, click here.