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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Men’s basketball: Aggies drop the ball in opening tournament

After three tough losses to kickoff the season, men’s basketball coach Gary Stewart remains positive.

While giving credit to the competition, Stewart does not deny the Aggies’ need to improve.

“It was a great learning experience for us,” Stewart said. “You have to assess who you’re playing, and the competition was good. We have to get significantly better on both sides. We show potential to be effective, but the consistency isn’t there right now.”

The Aggies went winless at the Athletes in Action Classic in Portland, Ore. this weekend, falling in three consecutive games.

Friday – Florida-Atlantic 70, UC Davis 63

In a game with 55 combined free throw attempts and 50 personal fouls, UC Davis was unable to find a rhythm.

“The game had no flow to it,” Stewart said. “There were so many free throws shot on both sides of the ball, and it was tough to get into a normal rhythm.”

The Aggies found themselves in an early 10-0 deficit, but came back to take their first lead of the contest at 41-40 with 13:11 remaining in the second half.

That advantage wouldn’t last, however, as the Owls ran away with the win.

“We got down by double figures, and it was an arduous task to climb a mountain that steep,” Stewart said. “In the end, we wore down and they took advantage of that to close the game out.”

Guard Mark Payne led the Aggie offense with 19 points and 10 rebounds, including a perfect 13-for-13 from the foul line.

Saturday – Portland 75, UC Davis 60

Playing against Portland on its home court was a tough task for UC Davis.

“[Portland] has an excellent student body section,” Stewart said. “They’re noisy and they get on you. [Portland has] beaten Pac-10 teams, and they’ve had some real success in a tough conference there at home. It’s not an easy place to play.”

Additionally, the Pilots put up a dominant offensive performance, hitting nine triples and shooting 62 percent from the field.

After falling behind 43-21 in the first half, the Aggies had their work cut out for them.

UC Davis managed to outscore Portland by seven in the second period, but 66-52 would be the closest the Aggies would come to closing the gap. Portland led by double-digits the rest of the way, en route to the 75-60 win.

Forward Eddie Miller led the Aggies in scoring, tallying 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

“Miller is talented,” Stewart said. “He’s searching right now to figure out where his shots are going to come from. Once he figures that out and gets comfortable, I think he’s going to take off.”

Sunday – Milwaukee 73, UC Davis 62

Both the Aggies and Panthers struggled to find the rim in the early minutes.

UC Davis and Milwaukee exchanged leads until the Panthers’ 14-4 run boosted them to nine-point lead midway through the first half.

UC Davis would bring the score as close as 61-55, but Milwaukee wouldn’t budge any more, breaking away for the victory.

“[Milwaukee] beat us off the dribble,” Stewart said. “We thought we would guard the ball better and we had slippage in that area. They had a multitude of people that got into the interior, and once they got there, they took advantage of it.”

Payne contributed 17 points and five rebounds against the Panthers, passing the 1000-point career mark on a three-pointer.

“It’s a really significant achievement considering that [Payne is] a pass-first player,” Stewart said. “Scoring is something we pushed him to do because he has that type of ability, but his natural instinct is to get others involved and to pass the basketball.”

The Aggies will next face UC Santa Cruz on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in what will be their home opener.

GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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