The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

SDSU breaks Tritons’ hearts, wins at the buzzer

Seven seconds remaining. Tritons up by one. A stop away from history. A defensive stand would guarantee the Tritons’ first-ever win against San Diego State University, a team that made the national championship game just 8 months prior. The clock wound down as 4,000 people stood on their feet, waiting for the final buzzer. Aztecs point guard Lamont Butler took the jumper, and the UC San Diego student section erupted in joy as it bounced off the rim. But SDSU forward Jaedon LeDee, who entered the game as the nation’s third-leading scorer, came up with the rebound. A shocked crowd watched as LeDee scored the second chance layup to win the game for the Aztecs, 63–62. What had looked like a certain upset 15 minutes prior had turned into a heartbreaking loss for the Tritons.

 

It was an incredible end to a game that many Tritons had been looking forward to. For the first time ever, UC San Diego men’s basketball (4–4, 0–0 Big West) took on San Diego State University (7–1, 0–0 Mountain West) in La Jolla. Just days earlier, the UCSD women’s program was able to pull off an upset against the Aztecs, and the men were hoping to do the same. 

 

The game was projected to be a sellout, and when doors opened an hour before tip-off, the line stretched half a mile. The expanded student section sat over 2,000 Tritons, while over a thousand SDSU fans poured into the general admission seats. This was the largest home game crowd in UCSD basketball history with around 4,000 total attendees. There were more than 1,500 people turned away at the door. With the sold-out crowd, the atmosphere in LionTree Arena was tense, as UCSD fans chanted “overrated” and “safety school” at the SDSU players and fans, and SDSU fans chanted back.

 

The Aztecs won the opening tip, but the Tritons started strong, taking a six-point lead just minutes into the game. UCSD point guard Hayden Gray led the way with ten early points, converting on all four of his field goal attempts. But SDSU wouldn’t go away, and the Tritons’ lead dwindled as the game became a back-and-forth battle. The Tritons would finish with a 31–30 lead at the half. Even though they held the lead, the Tritons struggled to rebound in the first half, with SDSU grabbing ten offensive boards.

 

The second half began with SDSU taking their first lead of the night from a three-pointer. After a quick Triton run saw their lead return to six, the Aztecs launched a small run of their own and tied the game. But on the next Triton possession, Bryce Pope converted a three as Francis Nwaokorie was fouled in the paint. The referees allowed the basket and called a flagrant foul against SDSU. Nwaokorie made a free throw, and Hayden Gray scored a floater on the next Triton possession to bring the lead back to six. The Tritons were playing well on both ends, eventually taking a fourteen-point lead with seven minutes left. 

 

But the Aztecs would fight back, with a 13–0 run late in the second half to bring the lead down to 1. The Tritons would finally break their drought on a Gray three-pointer with less than two minutes remaining, but it was immediately followed by an SDSU three on the other end. Pope scored a crucial jumper to bring the lead back to 3, but another Aztec bucket reduced the lead to 1 once again with only 38 seconds left. The Tritons called timeout, and Pope missed a jumper, giving SDSU eight seconds to prevent the upset. The Aztecs would miss the three that would’ve won the game, but an offensive board and last-second layup would see SDSU win against their crosstown rivals for the third straight year.

 

In the press conference following the game, UCSD head coach Eric Olen praised his team.

 

“I’m super proud of our team and the way that they competed,” he said. “Bryce [Pope] was cramping up, we were midway through the second half and he was already cramping up, so really proud of the effort.”

 

He spoke further about the impact that this performance can have on the rest of the season.

 

“I hope that this team recognizes what they’re capable of and builds on that,” Olen continued. “The way that you build a program is through consistency, and so it’s our responsibility to continue to play good basketball, and play with that type of effort even when nobody’s in the building, and that’s how you build a program, that’s how you have success, and success turns to success. Our approach to program building and team building isn’t going to change from one performance, but it’s certainly one where I’m proud of our group and I hope it gives us the confidence that they should have moving forward with the rest of the season.”

 

When asked about the environment, Olen replied, “I thought that tonight was awesome, I thought that the students really showed up and made a big difference for us, and I hope that’s something that can continue for us here. We have a home-court advantage that we’re building, it’s not like tonight every night, but the students have really shown up for us, they showed up for us in our home opener, it was great in here against [University of San Diego], we had a pretty good crowd against Navy at 4 p.m. on a Saturday. They’ve been bringing energy for us and it’s been awesome, and my hope for tonight is that they had a good time and they wanna come back and they want to help us build what we’re trying to build.”

 

This loss brings the Triton losing streak to four games, with the first three losses occurring in Seattle. They look to break their losing streak against Occidental College in La Jolla on Wednesday, the Tritons’ last game at home until they face Cal State Bakersfield in Big West conference play on Dec. 28.

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Thomas Murphy, Co-Webmaster & Photographer
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