Seniors Mark Payne, Todd Lowenthal and Joe Harden have finished another chapter in the UC Davis men’s basketball history books.
The three seniors played their last minutes in an Aggie uniform this weekend. Despite an unfortunate elimination from the Big West Conference Tournament, the veterans have shown coach Gary Stewart an experience he will never forget.
“Mark has another chapter to write, and Joe and Todd do as well,” Stewart said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the three of them. I don’t know how it’s going to unfold, but I know it’s going to be tremendous.”
Reflecting on his last season as an Aggie, Payne says his team has proven to be a “scrappy bunch.”
“We’re maybe not as big as those other guys, but we’re tough and we compete every day,” Payne said. “I don’t think anybody in our league would say we don’t play hard.”
Thursday – UC Davis 78, Cal State Northridge 66
UC Davis approached Thursday’s game with a win-or-go-home mentality.
The Aggies beat the Cal State Northridge Matadors in style, yet they still had to go home.
It wasn’t until after the thrilling victory over Cal State Northridge that the UC Davis men’s basketball team caught wind that Cal State Fullerton had just beaten Pacific. The Titans’ win officially knocked the Aggies out of the Big West Conference Tournament.
According to junior guard Ryan Sypkens, the news sucked the energy out of the locker room.
The Aggies extended a first-half lead to as many as 14. After that point, they snuck away for the final 78-66 win.
Sypkens poured in 22 points while grabbing a career-high nine boards on the night.
“22-and-9, how about that?” Stewart said. “[Sypkens] was terrific tonight. He really set the tempo for us with his aggression. When he’s playing that way with the talent he has, he’s one of the better players in the league.”
UC Davis spread the wealth on offense with four different scorers in double digits.
Aside from the numbers, the Aggies’ overall drive was what struck Stewart.
“It’s hard to put into words how proud I am of them,” Stewart said. “We’ve been swimming upstream, but we’ve been competing and fighting and I’m really proud of them.”
Saturday – Cal State Fullerton 87, UC Davis 82
Thursday’s elimination meant that Saturday’s game was the Aggies’ “championship.”
It was not only an opportunity for UC Davis to end the season with a win, but a chance to send the seniors off with a bang.
“[Senior Night] is one of the most special games in a season,” Stewart said. “We say goodbye to some people that have been very instrumental for our program. They’ve made a huge impact on all of us.”
Unfortunately for the Aggies, a win was once again hard to come by.
With another 14-point lead in the first half, UC Davis thought they had the game. But it turned into a battle, as the Titans came within a point by halftime.
UC Davis took Fullerton to yet another close game with just over two minutes to play, but the Titans pulled away for the 87-82 heartbreaker.
The vibe in the locker room reflected the shock of losing on Senior Night, Stewart said.
“The mood is one of disappointment,” Stewart said. “Also, the finality of it and knowing that we won’t go down this road again with Payne, Lowenthal and Harden.
“Sometimes in life your best isn’t good enough. We lost around six two-possession games, a game in overtime and a game in double-overtime [this season]. Tonight was indicative of our season. The will was there, but we weren’t able to capitalize on some of the opportunities we had.”
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.