With just three games left on the road before returning to La Jolla for its long-awaited home opener, the UCSD men’s basketball team looked to end its nine-game road stint on a strong note in Northern California. However, the results were somewhat mixed as the Tritons first took a heartbreaking 64–62 loss to Cal State Monterey Bay in the final seconds on Friday before dominating Cal State East Bay 76–65 the following night.
UCSD (4–2) was edged by Monterey Bay (4–3) in an intense final three seconds on Friday that ended with a desperate full-court heave from junior guard Hunter Walker.
The Tritons struggled out of the gate offensively, hitting only 26 percent of their attempts in the first half to fall into a 30–22 deficit 20 minutes into the game. In the second half, Cal State Monterey Bay appeared to pull away with the game, slowly creating a 13-point lead.
UCSD, however, would not go down without a fight, slowly crawling back into the game and cutting the lead down to one with six minutes remaining in the game. Much of the Tritons’ offense in the comeback effort was a result of their defensive plays, as the Tritons scored 28 points off of 19 forced turnovers.
“We did a much better job getting some stops and creating some turnovers, leading to chances offensively,” UCSD head coach Eric Olen said. “We struggled shooting in the first half, so we had some good opportunities to get it going offensively, got us going a little bit. It gave us a really good chance to win the game, but we came up a bit short. “
In the final minutes, both squads kept each other within reach. Walker’s three-pointer brought the Tritons to a one-point deficit with two minutes remaining. Down one and with the shot clock turned off, the Tritons had to foul with 20 seconds left, ultimately giving the Otters a three-point lead.
Off an inbounds play with three seconds left, sophomore guard Jeff Van Dyke used a pump fake to free himself and sank a clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 62 apiece.
Despite the shot, Otter guard Mateo Jones was able to quickly sneak behind the Triton defensive down to receive a Hail Mary pass and make a routine layup, giving the Otters the two-point lead with only 1.7 seconds remaining on the clock. One final heave from Walker just barely missed, and the Tritons hope for a comeback victory was quelled.
Sophomore guard Aleks Lipovic scored 14 points and added two steals. Walker finished with 11 points, two rebounds and two steals. Van Dyke recorded 14 points, shooting four for five from behind the arc.
The Tritons would not make the same mistake of playing from behind against Cal State East Bay. UCSD, who would only led by one at halftime, wasted no time in the second half, quickly creating a comfortable lead.
The Pioneers’ heavy defensive pressure forced the Tritons to drive the ball and denied them their offensive forte of shooting the three. However, UCSD made it clear that it could score in ways other than shooting the deep ball.
UCSD had 36 points in the paint while attempting a season-low 12 three-pointers. The offensive was clicking on all cylinders, converting on a season-high 52 percent while the defense held Cal State East Bay to only 37-percent shooting.
“We try and take what they give us,” Olen said. “They did make an effort to limit our opportunities from three-point range, so that opened up some space for us to attack the basket and make some plays around the rim.”
Sophomore guard Adam Klie and Walker had identical stat lines, both scoring 16, three rebounds and two assists. Junior forward Drew Dyer and Van Dyke also scored in double digits, finishing with 10 and 12, respectively. Walker has been averaging 12.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and two steals in the last five games.
“Hunter is a very versatile guy. He can play different positions, and he really makes things easier from a matchup standpoint,” Olen said. “Offensively, he has done a better job this year being more efficient. Part of it is shot selection; some of that has been the matchup that he has gotten.”
The Tritons will be put to the test in their next slate of games, as they face off against No.17 California Baptist University (5–1) on Friday, Dec. 12, before hosting a five game homestand over a span of three weeks against the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s strongest squads.