Photo Credits: LUIS LOPEZ / AGGIE
Fueled by clutch play from senior forward Garrison Goode, UC Davis able to overcome double-digit deficit in surge toward March playoffs
Heading into Saturday night’s game against Long Beach State, the UC Davis men’s basketball team had won its previous four matchups. After starting off conference play with a 1-4 record, the Aggies had bounced back to 5-4, climbing to fifth in the Big West standings.
The previous bout against Long Beach State did not go in UC Davis’ favor, and the team lost at the very end of regulation in Southern California. Saturday night, however, the Aggies got their chance at redemption.
Senior forward AJ John checked into the game only three minutes after the beginning of regulation, providing Davis with an instant spark off the bench. In his first offensive possession, John beat his defender, cutting to the basket and hitting an easy layup.
In the ensuing minutes, John racked up a block, a three pointer, a tough rebound and an assist to senior guard TJ Shorts II, who was able to put up his only points of the night. Shorts suffered an injury in the first half and was not able to return to the ballgame but did witness most of the second half from the bench while wearing a brace on his left leg, supporting and helping in any way possible.
Despite plenty of energy from across the lineup, the Aggies were outmatched in the first period by a spirited 49er squad. At halftime, UC Davis trailed 41-33.
Senior guard Siler Schneider started off the second half on a positive note for the Aggies, hitting a three and then forcing a travel on Long Beach. Behind the tough defense and three-point shooting of junior guards Rogers Printup and Stefan Gonzalez, UC Davis crawled its way back into contention.
With the lead going back and forth, UC Davis trailed by two points with two and a half minutes left. Senior forward Garrison Goode sunk two free throws to tie the game and was fouled again on the following possession, giving him another pair of free throws, one of which he made.
On the ensuing Long Beach possession, Schneider was able to force a turnover and come up with the steal. He eventually found Goode standing all alone underneath the basket for a wide-open layup to put the Aggies ahead by three.
Goode came up big a minute later, when he was able to swat the ball to the top of the key following a missed shot by Schneider. Junior guard Joe Mooney was able to collect the loose ball and closed the game out with a pair of free throws. The Aggies emerged victorious, 77-73, following a 44-point second half.
After the game, Mooney remarked that he wasn’t surprised that the Aggies were at the line as much as they were.
“That’s kind of a thing when we play Long Beach: a lot of fouls,” Mooney said.
He added that the win was important and that it’s “all about playing well at the right time.”
Head Coach Jim Les was beaming with pride after Saturday’s come-from-behind victory. Les believed that it was the Aggies’ uncharacteristic defensive mistakes in the first half that caused them to fall behind early.
“To start the game […] I thought we were really passive defensively,” Les said. “We gave them way too much room, way too much space and they got into a real comfort zone. It was all about our defense; we were just a little out of character with our defensive pressure, execution and energy at the end of the floor and it cost us.”
Only when the Aggies locked in for the second half did they find success shutting down the Long Beach offense. Once they did, Les couldn’t have been happier with the way his team responded after Shorts’ injury and came away with a much-needed win. He was thrilled with how many different contributors there were, highlighted by junior guard Stefan Gonzalez’s career-high scoring night.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Les said. “It was an emotional group in the locker room at halftime seeing TJ and how emotional and distraught he was, rightfully so, knowing that he wasn’t going to be back on the floor.”
“I thought the guys, in honor of TJ — who’s been a warrior for them and for us the last year and a half — tried to pay him back with their response in the second half, because they had every excuse to lay down and maybe give this game away, but they fought and executed and made some tough plays,” Les said. “As I told them, ‘Good teams find a way to win when they don’t play well’ and I didnt think we played well at all. To scratch and claw and win a game, that’s what they did tonight and we haven’t done that all year so that was a step in the right direction.”
With this win under their belt and now sitting fourth in the Big West standings, the Aggies will travel to Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night.
Reflecting on the future and expectations for this team going forward, Goode said he looks forward to the next contest.
“It’s gonna be a good game on Thursday, looking forward to that one,” he said. “When it comes down to it, we just gotta play our basketball and we’ll play pretty well.”
UC Davis will play their last two away games of the regular season in the upcoming two games, then will close the season out with four consecutive home games. The next home game will be against top-ranked UC Irvine on Feb. 28.
Written by: AJ Seymour — firstname.lastname@example.org