The five seniors stepped off Hamilton Court for the final time.
On the home sideline, they were met with hugs and high fives from their coaches and teammates. On the opposite sideline, Cal State Northridge coach Bobby Braswell was at his feet, leading his staff in applause.
All around them, the Pavilion crowd of 1,746 was chanting: “Thank you, seniors. Thank you, seniors.“
Vince Oliver, Kyle Brucculeri, David Carter, Michael Boone and Nathan Clark didn‘t get the win they wanted on Senior Night, but they were given the reception they deserved at the close of UC Davis‘ 99-72 loss to Northridge on Thursday.
The game was the Aggies‘ last before the Big West Conference Tournament, which begins Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“I can’t tell you who’s going to win down there in Anaheim, but I can tell you that I have five champions in those seniors,” said coach Gary Stewart. “In this profession, you always wish and hope for the best for guys as they matriculate out to society, but sometimes you’re not sure. You hope that they have a great, prosperous life. The five seniors, I know. There’s no doubt in my mind.“
Clark, a transfer out of Modesto Junior College, has been with the program for two years. Oliver and Carter are fourth-year seniors, and Boone and Brucculeri were both part of Stewart’s first recruiting class five years ago.
Boone (ankle) and Brucculeri (elbow) both persevered through serious injuries during their careers.
“They’ve got some fight that I admire them for,” Stewart said. “My kind of guys.“
Following the honorary pregame ceremonies, Oliver started the contest strong. The guard, who ranks third on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,494 career points, had 10 of UC Davis‘ first 12 of the game to give the team a 12-11 lead with 15:17 left in the first half.
Sophomore Joe Harden then hit a three-pointer to give the Aggies their biggest lead of the night, but the Matadors battled back to take a 39-34 halftime lead.
Pressuring UC Davis with mostly zone defenses, Northridge scored 30 points off 22 turnovers for the game. It outscored the Aggies 60-38 in the second half.
The loss was UC Davis‘ fourth straight since it clinched the program’s first Big West Tournament berth on Feb. 18. The team will have the eighth seed in the tournament and will open play on Wednesday when it faces fifth-seeded UC Irvine at 6 p.m.
The Aggies swept the Anteaters in their two regular season meetings this season.
A Wednesday win would advance UC Davis to a Thursday matchup with third-seeded Pacific. With a win, the Aggies would play top-seeded Northridge on Friday for a place in the Saturday finals.
The winner of the tournament represents the Big West in the NCAA Tournament later this month.
“I think we’re real hungry,” Oliver said. “The last four games have been tough, but at this point we think we’re due to break out and play like we know we can play.
“This is the most exciting time of the year. It’s fun to finally get a chance to play in the conference tournament and get a chance to get to the Big Dance. We all know what’s at stake, and we’re excited that we have this opportunity.“
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.