Strong First Half Not Enough to Top SDSU

    MEN’S BASKETBALL — The Tritons put together one of their most memorable outings against a Division-I rival on Saturday night, taking a slight lead into the half against cross-town opponent San Diego State in the season-opening game. Battling the perennial postseason contender throughout the contest, the Tritons held SDSU to only 19 points in the first half before ultimately falling by a final score of 59-40.

    Facing an Aztec squad that returned all five of its starters and its top eight scorers from last season, the Tritons had to come together quickly in their first action of the 2008-09 season. After getting off to a slow start — outscored 9-0 in the first six minutes of the match — sophomore guard Casey Ryan put UCSD on the board, recording his first collegiate field goal with an impressive put-back. Tough Triton defense kept the Aztecs without a fast-break basket and only three second-chance points in the first half as UCSD’s hustle negated SDSU’s size advantage.

    “I was really happy about the first half — I thought we played really hard,” Ryan said. “[We] came out with a lot of energy and emotion and kind of did what we wanted. We slowed the game down, didn’t really let them get going.”

    Using a fluid offense and consistently making the extra pass to get the best look possible, the Tritons came all the way back to take their first lead of the game, 15-13, after back-to-back three-pointers by senior guard Kelvin Kim with 7:24 left to play in the first half. In front of a stunned San Diego State crowd that seemed to be expecting an easy season opener, UCSD extended its advantage to eight points with 3:47 left in the half. Led by eight points from Kim and eight rebounds from senior forward Darryl Lawlor, the Tritons held off a late Aztec charge to take a two-point advantage, 21-19, into the break.
    “I thought our preparation was pretty good,” head coach Chris Carlson said, now in his second season with UCSD. “I think we had a really good understanding, certainly in the first 20 minutes, of what we were going to see. I think we handled the pressure pretty well for our first game.”

    San Diego State looked more like the talented and well-coached team that has made three consecutive postseason appearances in the second half, putting together a 14-5 run in the first 4:36 after intermission to retake the lead. UCSD would stay within striking distance, until a 10-0 SDSU run put the game out of reach with just over four minutes left to play.

    “There are some things we have to work on,” Carlson said. “Our aggression tabled off in the second half and we’ve got to learn how to play from ahead. We just kept kind of absorbing their hits, rather than punching back like we did in the first half. We have got to learn how to play a 40-minute game … how to play in long stretches and withstand runs. In that sense, this is something we can really learn and grow from.”

    Despite the loss, the 59-40 final score represented the third-closest game in the all-time series between the two squads. Most impressively, the Tritons allowed the fewest points San Diego State has ever scored against UCSD — the previous low was 70 in the teams’ first meeting almost 40 years ago.

    “Defensively, we did a great job,” Carlson said. “We were in the right spots when we needed to be. Anytime you hold a team that is as talented and as well-coached as San Diego State to 28 percent shooting in the first half, you’re going to have a shot to win.”

    Kim led the way offensively for UCSD with 11 points to go along with two assists and two steals. Lawlor grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, while scoring four points and adding three assists in the game. Sophomore forward Billy White was one of three Aztecs who scored in double figures with a game-high 15 points, while also contributing to a team-high eight rebounds. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field with UCSD shooting 31.5 percent and SDSU shooting 36.7 percent. The Aztecs also held a slight 37-35 rebounding advantage.

    Carlson used a myriad of substitutions, keeping fresh players out on the court and looking for successful lineup combinations in the Tritons’ first test of the season. With 12 Tritons seeing game action, players were able to show glimpses of success to come during the game. Freshman forward/center Christian Hatch scored seven points on 3-for-4 shooting from the field in his collegiate debut, while Casey Ryan, having taken only two shot attempts during all of last season, went 3-for-3 — 1-for-1 from long distance — to also finish with new career-highs of seven points and five rebounds.

    “I felt like it was a pretty good overall game, but we still have some things we need to work on,” Hatch said of his first game. “It was a talented team we were playing, so it was a good experience. I think we’ll learn from it. The Tritons returned to action against another Division-I opponent, traveling to face University of the Pacific on Nov. 19 at the Pacific Athletic Center in Stockton. Scores were not available at press time.

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