It's tough to tell if the Cal Maritime men's basketball team recently went for a swim at the school's Recreation and Aquatic Center.
The Keelhaulers looked like they were treading water in the first half on Thursday against visiting Simpson of Redding.
Led by 10 3-pointers after the intermission, however, Cal Maritime did plenty of splashing in the second half.
That was more than enough to beat the Red Hawks, 79-54, as the Keelhaulers locked up their sixth straight California Pacific Conference regular season title and the top spot for the upcoming conference tournament.
The 29 first-half points were not typical for a team that has won eight in a row and 11 of its last 12.
"That was actually trumped by the 19 we scored against La Sierra," said a smiling Cal Maritime coach Bryan Rooney. "We have a term we use — 'we just have to get through the mud.' Halftime could not have come sooner. We got into the locker room and just talked about settling down and playing for one another and we did a much better job in the second half. I think we had three assists by halftime but finished with 15."
Junior guard Justin Eisen finished with a team-high 16 points and four assists, junior swingman Brayden Morse added 14 points and junior guard Phil Randles added 12 points. The Keelhaulers stepped up offensively on a night when the team's leading scorer, Daniel Radford was held without a field goal and scored just two second-half points.
"We shoot a lot of 3s but coach wants us to go to the paint, penetrate and look inside first," said Eisen, who knocked down four 3s overall. "If we look inside first, that clears everything else out for the outside. That's what we did and we executed really well."
CMA led 29-24 at halftime before a 3-pointer from Daniel Solis ignited a 12-2 run to start the second half, pushing the lead to 40-26.
The Keelhaulers (19-10, 11-2) were never threatened again.
"I think coming into the game we knew if we won we would clinch the (regular season) championship," Rooney said. "There's a little bit of inherent pressure that comes with that. That's one of the things we talked about at halftime — let's just play and not make it more complicated than it needs to be. I also thought we did a very good job defensively. (Simpson) shot 31 percent from the floor and we outrebounded them by 20."
Simpson (5-20, 3-7) stuck around in the first half largely due to guard Aron Rudd, who scored nine of his 13 points before intermission. Justin Beskeen scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
The Red Hawks were within 25-21 with 2:10 left in the first half after a layup from Jalen Cooper before CMA's Travis Arenas hit two foul shots and then Eisen set up Morse for an elbow jumper to push the lead to 29-21 with 20 seconds left. However, Simpson held for the final shot and Rudd knocked down a 3-pointer for the final bucket of the half.
Overall, CMA shot 40 percent from the field but made 13 of 30 3-pointers and grabbed 49 rebounds. Arenas and Adam Armstead led the effort on the glass with seven each.
After Saturday's regular season finale with second place Pacific Union, the Keelhaulers will host the Cal-Pac tournament next week. They are trying to win their sixth straight Cal-Pac tournament crown and head back to Missouri for the NAIA National Tournament.
With lots of new faces, it took some time for things to come together.
"I think we eventually knew each other's roles," Eisen said. "That was missing at the beginning of the season. I think a lot of players were doing things that they normally wouldn't do, but once we figured out our roles, we starting playing together as one."