Spirited Crowd Lifts Tritons to Huge League Win

    With 3,098 fans packing RIMAC Arena on Spirit Night, the UCSD men’s basketball team gave everyone in attendance a reason to come back, getting contributions from everyone on the court and continually raising the level of excitement in the building as the Tritons beat the defending league champion, the Sonoma State Seawolves, 90-76, for the first time in California Collegiate Athletic Association action. The Tritons nearly extended their season-best four-game winning streak the following night against No. 11 Humboldt State, falling just short of pulling off an upset, eventually falling by a final score of 61-59. UCSD’s record now stands at 10-11 and 8-8 in conference play.

    Will Parsons/Guardian
    Junior forward Brett Stuckey shows perfect form on a jump shot with a rowdy crowd of over 3,000 fans in the background on Spirit Night on Feb. 9, when the Tritons topped the Sonoma State Seawolves 90-76 for the first time in 13 conference meetings.

    For senior guard Robby Peters, the only senior on the squad, playing in his fourth and final Spirit Night game against a team that he had never beaten in his career, the victory over Sonoma State was extremely satisfying.

    “”This was an awesome game,”” he said. “”I mean, just the crowd we had out here tonight, being [in my] senior year and I was 0-7 [against Sonoma State]. So to get the monkey off my back on the last Spirit Night game, that’s nice to do.””

    The Seawolves, who had won all 13 previous conference meetings, tried to take some of the air out of the raucous Triton crowd early in the Spirit Night game, knocking down a three-pointer to open the game and leading by as much as nine midway through the first half. However, those in attendance seemed even more fired up, and the Tritons continued to feed off of the energy, working the ball around well and staying aggressive on both ends of the court.

    With the Tritons driving to the basket and converting on an incredible 65 percent of their shots, many of them contested layups and high-percentage shots near or in the lane, the nine-point lead wouldn’t last very long.

    Layups by sophomore forward Henry Patterson and three free throws from sophomore forward Darryl Lawlor keyed a 20-6 run in the final nine minutes of the half, giving UCSD a five-point advantage heading into the break.

    “”We got behind a little bit to start, but then we got going offensively, fed off the crowd and we played really well,”” assistant coach Eric Olen said.

    UCSD seemed even more energized out of the break, with back-to-back steals by sophomore guard Kelvin Kim and Patterson opening the half and starting a 10-0 run. The Tritons never trailed in the half, with Sonoma State getting only as close as nine with under two minutes to play. While the Seawolves shot over 50 percent from the field and converted 14 of their 19 free-throw attempts, the Tritons converted on 75 percent of their shots, moving the ball around effectively, with every player willing to make the extra pass.

    “”Tonight, coach put up a quote on the board saying, ‘You can achieve anything when people don’t care who gets the credit,’ and that definitely described tonight,”” Patterson said.

    Sonoma State, which used a full court press and swarming defense in hopes of rattling the Tritons, was largely unsuccessful in using this method, with UCSD turning the ball over only five times. On the other side, the Tritons grabbed six steals and forced 11 total turnovers, while somewhat containing the Seawolves’ leading scorer, J.T. Tipton. Tipton, who scored a game-high 24 points, half of them from the charity stripe, dominated in the team’s previous meeting, when the Seawolves escaped with a 75-70 win at home.

    “”Last game J.T. Tipton had 38, and this game we all helped on him and he only had 24,”” said junior forward Brett Stuckey, who scored a career-high 13 points in the game. “”[This is the] best team I’ve ever played on right here. I love it and I don’t think it gets any better.””

    Peters, Patterson and junior guard Clint Allard also scored 13 in the game, while Kim led UCSD with 15 points and eight assists. Lawlor, fellow sophomore forward Shane Poppen, freshman forward Andrew Browning and freshman guard Jordan Lawley also made significant contributions on both ends of the floor in front of the second-largest crowd of any CCAA game this season.

    UCSD looked to extend its win streak against Humboldt State the following night, building an early 8-0 lead and holding the CCAA-leading Lumberjacks to five points in the first eight minutes of play. The Tritons were able to protect the advantage for the entire half, leading by as much as 12 and taking a one-point lead into the break after Humboldt State junior forward Devin Peal scored a layup at the end of the half.

    Peal opened the second half with another layup, giving the Lumberjacks their first lead of the game. The lead would change six more times after that, and the teams would be tied up five times. After Lawlor scooped up a loose ball on UCSD’s end, rebounding his own miss and putting it back in, the game was tied at 59 apiece.

    The Lumberjacks got the ball to midcourt and called a timeout to draw up the final play. Despite a stingy Triton defense, Humboldt State senior guard Jeremiah Ward drove to the basket and got a tough layup attempt to fall for the deciding points with just seconds remaining.

    “”They were playing strongly and we had to keep fighting,”” Browning said. “”It just came down to the end and they made the play. We couldn’t do any better on that last play.””

    Despite the Lumberjacks’ size advantage, they had only a slim 28-24 rebounding advantage and led by no more than three points during the game.

    Kim was again the leading scorer for the Tritons with 14 points and five assists, while Patterson had 12 points and Allard contributed eight points, seven assists and seven rebounds. Humboldt State’s Kevin Johnson, the CCAA’s leading rebounder and fifth-leading scorer, finished with a game-high 22 points after being held to two points and no rebounds in the first half. Peal was the only other Lumberjack in double digits on a team where all five starters had been averaging at least 11 points per game.

    “”They just pushed us around, trying to show us who’s boss,”” said Lawlor, who finished with five points and three rebounds. “”They think they’re way better than us. We didn’t prove anything by not winning, [but] we showed that we can play [with] the big boys.””

    UCSD will conclude its current homestand against Cal State Bakersfield on Feb. 16 and Cal State Los Angeles on Feb. 17. Both games are scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip-offs.

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