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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Aggies crumble in crunch time

Devastation has been the story all year.

After two emotional losses on the final road trip of the season, the Aggies hurt more than ever.

“I have a very disappointed locker room,” said coach Gary Stewart. “At times you fall short, but tonight [against UC Riverside] it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”

UC Davis dropped to a 3-11 Big West Conference record and 10-17 overall as it prepares to enter the final homestand of the season.

Currently, the Aggies are on the outside looking in for the league tournament. The top eight teams make the postseason and UC Davis sits two full games out of eighth place. The Aggies, however, do have an outside shot to make it.

Thursday – UC Irvine 96, UC Davis 87 2OT

A double-overtime clash against the Anteaters is nothing new for the Aggies.

For the second time this season, UC Davis battled UC Irvine for two extra periods – only this time the Aggies came up short.

Stewart blames the Aggies’ sluggishness to open up each half.

“We suffered from a poor start in the first half, a poor start in the second half and a poor start in the second overtime and that was the difference in the game,” Stewart said.

The Anteaters came alive for a 6-0 run to start the night and extended their lead to as many as nine throughout regulation play.

Down 67-66 with 35 seconds left in the game, senior guard Mark Payne forced the first extra period, making one of two shots from the foul line.

In the first overtime, UC Irvine had a three-point lead until junior Eddie Miller hit a triple as time expired to tie it at 80.

The second extra period was all Anteaters, though, as the Aggies surrendered to a dominant final run for the 96-87 score.

Despite the constant come-from-behind effort, Stewart said it’s not about moral victories.

“We had opportunities,” Stewart said. “We had a lead in overtime but we struggled to get defensive stops. We turned the ball over too many times in the second overtime. We had opportunities to win but you can’t get down on the road every half and expect to get back in it.”

Miller posted a career-high 26 points to accompany his five rebounds. He shot 11-for-21 from the field.

Saturday – UC Riverside 85, UC Davis 81

Down by 18 early in the second half, the Aggies could have conceded defeat.

Making matters worse, senior guard Joe Harden left the game due to a leg injury in the first half. Harden, the Aggies’ most prolific scorer and rebounder, would not return.

Despite major hiccups, UC Davis chipped away to take the 69-67 lead midway through the second period on a jumper by Miller.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, their effort wasn’t enough as they fell to the Highlanders 85-81.

UC Davis remained competitive throughout the game, thanks to Miller’s new career-high 35 points.

Miller was 13-for-21 from the field, registering 15 points on triples alone.

Stewart was pleased with his team’s energy in the loss.

“We had a terrific effort tonight,” Stewart said. “To fight back, given all those close losses we have suffered, is a testament to our players.”

UC Davis will be back in action next week, playing its final two games of the regular season at home, starting with Cal State Northridge on Thursday at 7 p.m. Senior night will be celebrated on Saturday at 7 p.m. with the Aggies taking on Cal State Fullerton. 

GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at sports@theaggie.org

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