UC Davis never trailed in Saturday night’s home finale en route to a 78-75 victory over the favored Cal State Fullerton Titans.
The win was the Aggies’ fourth in their last six games and their second home win in a row.
For seniors Adam Malik and Eddie Miller, a win over the second place Titans was the perfect way to close out a career in the Pavilion.
“It was pretty emotional,” Malik said. “I didn’t get the opportunity to play last year but came back this year and there’s no better way to go out than with a W. I’m glad I had that opportunity.”
Fellow senior Miller shared similar sentiments about his final game in the Pavilion.
“It’s a great way to go out,” he said. “Not many people get to win their last home game and it’s a great opportunity and great experience here tonight and I can’t say enough about the support I’ve gotten over the years.”
In front of one of their biggest crowds of the year, the Aggies took it to CSU Fullerton right from the opening tip. Five different players scored the first five buckets for UC Davis as it jumped out to an early 12-0 lead.
The Titans finally got their first field goal, a three pointer, after nearly seven minutes of play. A couple more threes cut into the Aggies’ lead, and midway through the first half the score was tied 16-16.
UC Davis ramped up its defensive pressure throughout the final 10 minutes of the first half and took a 35-25 lead into the break.
The Aggies extended their lead to 14 points in the first three minutes of play in the second half, but the Titans wouldn’t go away.
“You’re not going to walk away from a team as good as Fullerton,” Head Coach Jim Les said. “You knew they were going to make a run so it was just withstanding that run and making sure we had enough gas in the tank.”
The Aggies, who have dealt with multiple injuries all season long, had a short bench again on Saturday night. Four players were in street clothes at the end of the bench, while another, Paolo Mancasola, suited up but did not enter the game. Les used only eight players in the game.
Despite the limited roster, UC Davis was able to sustain its pressure throughout Fullerton’s comeback attempt.
“[I was] telling guys ‘hey you can’t be tired now this is your chance to seize the moment,’” Les said. “And they did.”
The Aggies led by 10 with just over five minutes remaining in the game, but the Titans used layups and free throws — UC Davis held Fullerton to just 8 of 31 from behind the arc — to cut the lead to just one with 1:36 remaining.
From there, clutch free throw shooting and one big defensive play led the Aggies to victory. Josh Ritchart blocked a potential game-tying three pointer by Fullerton after UC Davis turned it over on the inbounds play with just 11 seconds left in the game.
After the block and a foul by Fullerton, Miller had two free throws with eight seconds remaining to push the lead to five and essentially end the game.
“I don’t think you can paint a better picture,” Miller said of the situation. “When you’re a young kid in the backyard you’re shooting game winning free throws and I’m really thankful that I got that opportunity.”
Miller, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, made both of the final free throws. He was seven for seven from the line in the contest.
Ritchart led the Aggies in scoring with 20 points, while Tyler Les had 14 and Tyrell Corbin added 10.
Coach Les said the game was the best of the season and praised his team’s consistent effort.
“I was really pleased with the all out effort over the course of 40 minutes on both ends of the floor,” Les said. “They’re starting to reap the rewards of their labor. [The team has] worked hard and they’ve continued to do the things that they’ve been asked to do.
“Giving great effort with some of the skill we have is going to give you a chance every night.”
CAELUM SHOVE can be reached at email@example.com.