Photo Credits: Benjamin Cheng / Aggie.
Aggies bested at home again
After a road trip that saw two victories on opponent’s courts, the UC Davis men’s basketball team failed to defend home court for the second time in conference play this season on Thursday night, dropping a close one to the Cal State Fullerton Titans. A game that went back and forth all night turned into a game that went down to the wire, but ultimately ended in a four-point loss for the Aggies.
“I don’t know if our guys have such a level of confidence in this building that they think they can just show up,” said UC Davis Head Coach Jim Les after the game. “But I think it shows a little bit of immaturity in our attitude. Again, part of that is on us as a staff getting guys ready, but the other part is on our seniors who understand how difficult it is home or away to grind out wins. They have to lead us with their energy and their effort.”
The Aggies decided to start Thursday night with a smaller, guard-heavy lineup that included freshmans Ezra Manjon and Elijah Pepper, sophomore Damion Squire and senior Joe Mooney along with senior center Matt Neufield.
After the Titans jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead, a mid range jump shot by Manjon gave the Aggies their first points of the game and back-to-back threes by senior guard Stefan Gonzalez — who came into the game ranked seventh in the country in three-point percentage — gave the Aggies their first lead of the game.
The next couple of possessions saw plenty of back and forth from both teams and a lot of physicality on both ends of the floor. After opening up an 11-7 lead with 14:41 remaining, the Aggies went ice cold for the next seven minutes of the game. Bad possessions, turnovers and hot shooting from deep by Titan sophomore guard Wayne Arnold led to a 10-0 run that gave Cal State Fullerton the lead, which it carried into the halftime break to go up 31-24.
In the first frame, Squire and Gonzalez led the Aggies in scoring with six a piece, but the team struggled converting on the offensive end. UC Davis shot just 10-29 from the field and 3-15 from three to go along with seven turnovers. On the Cal State Fullerton side, the Titans shot 12-28 from the field and were led by senior guard Brandon Kamga, who poured in 12 points and three assists on 50% shooting.
The start of the second half looked promising for the Aggies, as they received back-to-back threes by Mooney and Squire that cut the deficit to four. But the team’s sloppy play continued as UC Davis’ combination of bad shots and defensive lapses led to the Titans opening up a 49-39 lead with under 12 minutes left in the game.
But just as they have done throughout this season, the Aggies fought back. The freshmen woke up and UC Davis responded with a 8-1 run. A few buckets from Manjon and a Pepper basket with the foul put the Aggies level for the first time since early in the first half at 52.
With less than six minutes left in regulation, that last run proved to be all that the Aggies could really muster, as Arnold knocked down his third and fourth threes of the game and gave Cal State Fullerton a 62-54 lead with about two minutes remaining.
The last two minutes saw a lot of fouls as UC Davis tried to claw their way back into the game, but the buzzer sounded and the Titans claimed their second straight win of conference play, moving their record to 2-3. Kamga finished with 21 points, four rebounds and three assists, but the key to this victory came from the hot shooting by Arnold, who finished with 14 points and shot 4-8 from distance — including those crucial makes down the stretch that secured the win.
“I thought they drove us,” Les said about the interior defense. “And then I thought our help was really soft so you come over soft and you are going to allow guys to make plays.”
On the UC Davis side, Manjon led all scorers with 24 points, shooting 11-19 from the field along with five rebounds and four assists. Two other Aggies, Squire and Pepper, reached double digits with 10 apiece, but the night was overshadowed by the inability to make shots in crucial stretches and playing carelessly with the basketball.
“If we miss shots, don’t execute, turn it over — those things happen,” Les explained. “But we are going to play with a level of intensity, aggressiveness, energy and enthusiasm that fits the tradition of that jersey. But we didn’t do that tonight and that’s on me.”
The Aggies traveled to Honolulu on Saturday, where they took on Hawaii and suffered a heartbreaking 76-75 loss on a go-ahead three with 3.3 seconds left. UC Davis will return to the Pavilion once again on Thursday, where they will take on defending Big West Conference champions UC Irvine.
Written by: Omar Navarro — firstname.lastname@example.org