Photo Credits: WAYNE TILCOCK / UC DAVIS ATHLETICS
UC Davis men’s basketball falls in sluggish game versus Causeway rival
For the fourth consecutive year, the Causeway Classic matchup between the UC Davis men’s basketball team and Sacramento State took place inside the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings. In what could be the last Causeway Classic in that venue, the Hornets took down the Aggies for the second consecutive year, this time by the score of 61-51 — a poor offensive showing from both sides.
The Aggies’ starting lineup was once again changed from their previous game, as Head Coach Jim Les elected to start two freshmen guards, Ezra Manjon and Elijah Pepper — meaning that senior guard Joe Mooney and sophomore guard Caleb Fuller would come off the bench.
The UC Davis lineup was based mainly on physicality, a necessary action for going against a Hornets team led by senior center Joshua Patton, who averaged 18 points a game to open the season. Coming into the game, Sacramento State was ranked 23rd in the country in defensive efficiency, and the Aggies learned why early on in the contest.
Playing an aggressive game of basketball on the offensive end, the Hornets forced four early team fouls on the Aggies in just the first three minutes of play. Sac State additionally did not let up on the intensity in defense, allowing only two points in the first four minutes of the game and keeping the Aggies to 2-8 shooting from the field. But once again, the free throws kept the Aggies in the game, as UC Davis erased the early deficit with senior center Matt Neufeld going a perfect 4-4 from the line.
Patton made the Hornets’ first seven points of the game and was the only part of that offense that was working, as they started just 3-9 from the field. A quick UCD run tied the game up at 10, with Caleb Fuller leading the charge. But with 13 minutes left in the half, the Aggie momentum was snuffed when Fuller picked up his second foul and Coach Les opted to not risk a third, leading him to take Fuller out of the game.
Fouls were a common theme in this game, as the referees were calling a tight game on both sides of the court. Patton picked up his second foul as well with nine minutes left in the half and was taken out as their leading scorer, having 11 of the Hornets 17 points up to that moment. This seemed to be the Aggies’ chance to get back in the game as they were down five and the other teams’ best player was out of the game. For the Hornets, they needed someone to carry the load. And with seven minutes left in the half, they went on a 6-0 run that put them up nine, prompting a UCD timeout.
“Guys stepped up […] guys were playing great defense overall.” Patton said about his team after the game. “I know when I went out [of] the game, I was a bit frustrated but I know my teammates got my back and they can hold their own without me out there.”
And that they did as Hornet junior forward Ethan Esposito came alive, scoring 10 in Patton’s absence.
In a slow-paced game with 20 combined fouls at the half, the Aggies found themselves down 29-23. Manjon and Pepper combined for 1-10 shooting in the first half, as the team shot just 25 percent from the floor. Sinking 11-13 from the free-throw line kept UC Davis in the game, as well as starting center Matt Neufeld being the only source of offense with 10 points.
“In the first half, I thought we had a lot of great scoring opportunities,” Les said after the game. “We didn’t see the ball go through the basket. I thought we let up a little bit on our defensive end. Part of it not going in is probably the physical defense so credit Sac State.”
The sloppy play continued in the second half for the Aggies, as the Hornets controlled the pace of the game and kept up the intensity, forcing turnovers and jumping out to a 35-25 lead. A night of bad shooting continued for the Aggies as the only bright spot on the offensive end was Neufeld. But after picking up his fourth foul with 14 minutes left, Neufeld was forced to come out of the game.
The Aggies’ second-half deficit stayed at about 12. But after shifting to a full-court press, they fought their way back, going on a run and cutting the deficit down to six.
Following a timeout, the Hornets scored, caused a turnover and scored once again, bringing their lead back to double digits. That proved to be the Aggies’ last effort, as time eventually ran out without any last-minute comeback. A thunderous dunk by Patton with under a minute left closed out what was a dominating 61-51 win for Sac State.
Neufeld led the team with 20 points on 8-13 shooting along with three rebounds. The only other Aggie in double digits was Manjon with 10 points, but struggled from the field only shooting 29%. On the Sacramento State side, Patton led all scorers with 25 points and five rebounds, shooting an efficient 8-10 from the field.
“We’re throwing some guys to the wolves,” Les added. “The experience they’re getting is going to be valuable. They’re talented, they’re fearless, they don’t know what they don’t know. That’s partly on us as coaches to teach, partly on them to go through some life experiences on the floor when the lights are on. We’ll continue to progress, grow and get better.”
The road games kept coming for the Aggies when they traveled to Portland, Berkeley and Utah following the game on the 20th. The Aggies came up short in all three contests, but forced the two Pac-12 teams, Cal and Utah, to fight wire to wire — losing by a combined 10 points in those games.
These tough tests will continue for Les and the team as the Aggies try to figure out the best way to utilize their mix of young and veteran players. It has been an early struggle to determine who can score the ball consistently, but these non-conference games are important to the development of the team as it readies for Big West Conference play.
Written by: Omar Navarro — firstname.lastname@example.org