Tritons claim top spot in Big West with thrilling Spirit Night victory

Tritons claim top spot in Big West with thrilling Spirit Night victory
Photo by Keita Kobayashi/ UCSD Guardian

The atmosphere inside LionTree arena was electric as UC San Diego men’s basketball (13–7, 7–1 Big West) hosted UC Riverside (8–13, 3–6) on Spirit Night. The stands, adorned in the Tritons’ blue and gold, were bursting at the seams with enthusiastic fans. Students, alumni, and supporters alike filled the arena, creating a dynamic backdrop for the intense basketball unfolding on the court. As the crowd roared with excitement, it was clear that the spirit of Triton pride was alive and thriving in the heart of UC San Diego’s campus.

 

In a riveting showdown that epitomized the essence of college basketball, UC San Diego emerged triumphant with a hard-fought 66–65 victory over UC Riverside. The clash between these two Big West powerhouses captivated fans with its intensity, dramatic twists, and standout performances that showcased the talent and resilience of both teams.

 

From the opening tip-off, it was evident that this would be a closely-contested battle. UC San Diego wasted no time asserting their dominance; senior guard Bryce Pope ignited the Tritons’ offense with his sharpshooting prowess, draining four critical three-pointers on his way to a game-high 15 points. Pope’s stellar performance set the tone for UC San Diego’s offensive onslaught, with junior forward Tyler McGhie delivering a sensational shooting display of his own, matching his season-high with six three-pointers en route to an impressive 18-point outing.

 

As the game progressed, momentum swung back and forth, with neither team willing to concede an inch. UC San Diego stormed out of the gates with a blistering 17–6 run to establish an early lead, only to see UC Riverside mount a resilient comeback to tie the game multiple times. However, the Tritons remained composed under pressure, answering every challenge with clutch plays and timely baskets to maintain their advantage.

 

The second half witnessed an electrifying 11-0 UC San Diego surge, fueled by three-pointers from senior forward J’Raan Brooks, junior forward Francis Nwaokorie, and Pope. The Tritons’ relentless offensive pressure and sharpshooting from beyond the arc proved pivotal in swinging the momentum in their favor, as they capitalized on their opportunities to build a lead and fend off UC Riverside’s late-game surge. 

 

The last few minutes had captured everyone’s attention with UCR leading 50–55. Spirits high, UCSD tried to come back with wonderful shots from junior guard Hayden Gray and an equalizer from Bryce Pope. In a constant battle of scoring, UCSD emerged with a lead through a brilliant shot from Nwaokorie, making the score 61-60 with 4 minutes on the clock. A couple of fantastic attacks and free throw opportunities gave UCR the opportunity to tie the game but UCSD further increased their lead by another Nwaokorie score. UCR had possession with one minute on the clock, but UCSD’s powerful defending held UCR scoreless. As the clock hit 00:00, the arena bursted into cheers, owing to the home victory by UCSD.

 

Beyond the thrilling on-court action, the game also marked significant milestones for UCSD. With their eighth conference victory of the season, UCSD showcased their resilience and determination as they continue to make their mark in Division I basketball. 

 

Senior center Emmanuel Tshimanga emerged as a catalyst off the bench for UC San Diego, making his presence felt with 7 points and 9 rebounds, providing a crucial spark for the Tritons’ efforts. Head coach Eric Olen’s astute leadership and strategic guidance were instrumental in guiding UCSD to victory, as the team displayed unity and resilience in the face of adversity.

 

As UCSD celebrates their hard-earned victory, they turn their attention to the challenges that lie ahead. With a talented roster and a relentless desire to succeed, the Tritons are poised to continue their ascent in the Big West conference, setting their sights on further achievements and accolades as they strive for excellence on and off the court.

 

The thrilling clash between UCSD and UC Riverside served as a testament to the passion and intensity of college basketball, captivating fans and players alike with its exhilarating action and unforgettable moments. The Tritons continued their winning streak on Saturday, defeating UC Davis 92–59 after a 54-point second half. UCSD will look to make it four-in-a-row against CSUN at home on Thursday, before traveling to Long Beach State and Hawai’i.

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Sanaya Vakharia, Sports Associate Editor
Keita Kobayashi, Associate Photo Editor
Photo team, best team (W.I.P)
Thomas Murphy, Co-Webmaster & Photographer
I work on the website and take-a the pretty pictures
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