Men’s B-ball falls in close loss to SLO

All that practice nearly paid off for the UCSD men’s basketball team.

After three exhibition games against Division I opponents, the Tritons remained on the D-I trail during their regular season opener, nearly upsetting Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Nov. 18. Though the Trtions never lead in the game, they were close throughout, falling 71-67 in front of 1,985 fans at Mott Gymnasium in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Trying to defeat San Luis Obispo for the first time in 36 years, the Tritons stayed within single digits of the Mustangs for most of the first half, until the Mustangs were able to extend their lead to 32-19 with less than three minutes remaining. The Mustangs took a 36-26 lead into the half, but the Tritons returned in the second half determined to win.

With San Luis Obispo holding a 51-38 advantage at the 12 minute, 10 second mark, freshman guard Shane Poppen converted a three-point play and scored seven of the Tritons’ next 10 points, igniting a 19-6 run that left UCSD and San Luis Obispo tied at 57 with just over five minutes to play. Andrew Hatch brought UCSD back to within three points with 16 seconds remaining, but the Mustangs made three free throws to secure the win.

Free throws proved an important key for the Mustangs’ win. While the Tritons shot a stellar 56 percent from the field and exhibited their improved defense by holding San Luis Obispo to a poor 39.6 shooting percentage from the field, the Mustangs attempted 39 free throws, nearly three times as many as the Tritons. The Mustangs were able to convert nearly 70 percent of their attempts, with senior center Gabe Stephenson breaking a 42-year-old team record with 16 successful free throws, part of his game-high 22 points.

UCSD was led by one of the team’s nine newcomers, freshman forward Darryl Lawlor. Lawlor had 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, while sophomore Clint Allard scored 11 points.

The Mustangs dominated on the boards, out-rebounding the Tritons 39-21. UCSD allowed San Luis Obispo too many second chances, allowing the Mustangs to notch 17 offensive rebounds. UCSD did, however, have four takeaways and only nine turnovers, while the Mustangs had one steal and 10 turnovers.

Next up for UCSD is an away game at Pomona-Pitzer University on Nov. 22. The Tritons will then be in Phoenix the day after Thanksgiving, continuing their nine-game road trip at Grand Canyon University. UCSD will begin its California Collegiate Athletic Association schedule the following weekend with a Dec. 2 matchup at Cal State Bakersfield, followed by a game on Dec. 3 at Cal State Los Angeles.