With the brightest of lights shining, UC Davis men’s basketball defeated Long Beach State for a victory five seasons in the making.
The Aggies entered the game with an 11-3 record, including 7-0 at home, against a 49ers squad who had won just seven out of their 10 games. Still, Long Beach State posed a serious threat after facing four opponents currently ranked in the top-20 nationally.
The 49ers have one of the top guards in the Big West Conference, senior Mike Caffey who has led the team in points this season. Caffey has been named to the all-Big West first team for the past two seasons.
Senior Aggie guard Corey Hawkins spoke about his opponent after the game.
“I have the utmost respect for Mike, he’s a great guy, he’s humble and he doesn’t talk smack and neither do I. We let our games speak for themselves,” said Hawkins.
Caffey ended the night with a game-high 29 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals, including several big shots to keep the game close. The rest of the 49ers, however, were not able to get going offensively which UC Davis head coach Jim Les said was by design.
“We knew he [Caffey] was going to get his, but we talked about nobody else getting away from us. He goes for 29, but they don’t have another guy in double figures. So, they executed what we wanted,” said Les.
The game was played tight through the entire first half, with the Aggies leading by just two at halftime despite holding their opponent to 35.3 percent shooting. As a team, UC Davis turned the ball over 11 times compared with four by the 49ers.
Hawkins, however, was hurt in the beginning of the second half and was forced to sit for just over five minutes. The Aggies did not score in that time, allowing Long Beach State to go on a 12-0 run while turning the ball over on four straight possessions. When Hawkins came back in, with 12:18 left in the game, UC Davis was down by ten points.
The next two minutes of the game proved vital for the Aggies as they fought back to a three point deficit. On one possession, UC Davis grabbed two offensive rebounds before senior forward Josh Ritchart hit a three. That was followed by three forced turnovers and five points by the Aggies.
Despite the counter-run, the Aggies found themselves down by three points with 47 seconds left in the game. Sophomore guard Brynton Lemar got the ball at the top of the key with a forward guarding him. He drove left, got into the paint and hit a layup while being fouled. Lemar calmly stepped to the line, hit the free throw and sent the game into overtime.
“Hopefully that, mentally, gives him a lot of confidence [in the future],” said Hawkins about Lemar’s big shot. “That was a game-changing play, one of the biggest plays of the whole game. Without that we wouldn’t have been able to win the game.”
In overtime, the Aggies were able to capitalize on the energy of the crowd to eke out a win. Hawkins and sophomore guard Darius Graham played a big role in the overtime period, scoring seven and six points respectively, including a huge walk-up three by Hawkins in the face of Caffey. Hawkins finished the game with a team high 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists.
With the win, their first against Long Beach State since the 2008-09 season, the Aggies have announced to the nation that they are going to be a force to recon with in the Big West this season.
“We have had a couple of nationally televised games and years before we haven’t been able to pull it off,” said Graham. “This time we were able to pull it off, and in front of our fans.”
Coach Les felt that the win was very significant for the year to come.
“This is the start of turning the corner. We’re at that point where we feel we can compete with the Long Beach’s of the world and not just be in the game, but we expect to win now. That’s a huge step for this program and for these young men,” said Les.
UC Davis men’s basketball will embark on a three-game road trip before returning to the Pavilion on Jan. 29 to take on UC Santa Barbara. The Aggies currently sit atop the Big West standings after finishing in last place in the conference a year ago.
Photos courtesy of ESPN