ANAHEIM, Calif. — UC Davis’ defense played lights out down the stretch, holding Cal State Fullerton without a field goal for the final 4:31 of the game on Friday night, and junior psychology major AJ John finished with a team-high scoring total for the first time of the year with his 13 points, all earned in the second half, but the Aggies were unable to erase a late deficit and dropped Friday's Big West Conference Tournament semifinal at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., by a 55-52 score.
UC Davis fell to 22-10 overall with the loss, but will still continue its season as the Big West’s representative in the National Invitation Tournament by virtue of winning the league’s regular season title. The 32-team field for the 2018 NIT will be announced on Sunday (March 11) with first-round games beginning at campus sites on March 13-14.
"One play, one game does not define them. This has been an unbelievable group. They played their tails off and played together, we just fell a little bit short tonight," said head coach Jim Les.
"I couldn't be more proud of them for how they are handling the defeat as well as they maturely handled success. Sometimes, you have to go through these down moments to continue to climb up the hill and enjoy those spectacular moments.
"We'll let it simmer tonight, but tomorrow we'll get back at it, and this group is going to grow from this experience and become better, and stronger because of it," Les added.
John scored all of his points on 5 of 7 shooting overall, hitting 3 of 5 shots from three second half after picking up two quick fouls and playing a little over one minute in the first 20 minutes. Those 13 points were two more than his combined scoring output from the Aggies’ first two games against Fullerton during the regular season.
Junior economics major Garrison Goode finished with a team-high seven rebounds, while junior human development major Colin Russell gave UC Davis a valuable 12 minutes off the bench in the opening half with the Aggies in foul trouble, diving to the floor and corralling a number of loose balls to keep the play alive for his team.
Seven points from John to start the second half and a driving lay-up by junior communication major TJ Shorts II staked UC Davis to its largest lead of the game at 40-27 with just three minutes gone in the period and held a double-digit lead with just under 13 to play before the Titans made their run.
Kyle Allman, Jr., finished off an “and one” to start an 8-0 run for Fullerton — part of a larger 21-6 run that gave the Titans the lead for good. A jumper by sophomore economics major Joe Mooney brought the Aggies to within a point and they had a chance to take the lead when the Aggies were fouled with six seconds remaining.
Still trailing by one, UC Davis was forced to foul to preserve as much time as possible. That decision paid off because Arkim Robertson hit one of two free throws to push his team's lead to two.
UC Davis, as it has had to do in thrilling wins over Long Beach State and UC Riverside, would now have to go the length of the court to either tie or win the game and got the ball in the hands of junior communication major Siler Schneider, who was fouled during his run near midcourt, sending him to the line.
Schneider made the first, but was long on his second attempt as a scrum erupted underneath the basket on the rebound, with Fullerton ending up with the ball as the clock expired. However, a foul was called before the end of the game, putting 0.4 seconds back on the clock and sending Robertson to the line. The senior hit both and the Aggies’ half-court heave fell short to end the game.
"There were tough plays down the end, but we can't just look at that final minute of the game. We'll get back to the film room, look at the full 40 minutes and see where we went wrong over the course of the game. And then we'll bounce back and be ready to move forward," said Shorts II.
CAL STATE FULLERTON 55, UC DAVIS 52
CAL STATE FULLERTON (19-11)
Rowe, Jackson 7-12 2-4 16; Ahmad, Khalil 4-11 1-1 10; Allman, Kyle 3-8 2-4 8; Ramos, Dwight 2-4 2-3 6; Robertson, Arkim 1-2 3-4 5; Awosika, Austen 2-5 0-0 4; Smith, Jamal 1-5 2-2 4; Heinzl, Dominik 0-0 2-2 2; Pitts, Josh 0-0 0-0 0; Venzant, Daniel 0-0 0-0 0; Clare, Davon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 14-20
UC DAVIS (22-10)
John, AJ 5-7 0-0 13; Schneider, Siler 3-9 2-4 9; Shorts II, TJ 4-14 0-0 8; Mooney, Joe 3-7 0-0 7; Onyebalu, Michael 1-5 2-2 5; Printup, Rogers 1-4 0-0 3; Goode, Garrison 1-3 1-4 3; Russell, Colin 1-1 0-0 2; Hennings, Arell 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 19-52 7-12 52.
Cal State Fullerton........... 25 30 - 55
UC Davis.......................... 31 21 - 52
3-point goals--Cal State Fullerton 1-13 (Ahmad, Khalil 1-3; Allman, Kyle 0-1; Ramos, Dwight 0-2; Awosika, Austen 0-1; Smith, Jamal 0-3; Rowe, Jackson 0-3), UC Davis 7-18 (John, AJ 3-5; Printup, Rogers 1-4; Mooney, Joe 1-3; Onyebalu, Michael 1-2; Schneider, Siler 1-3; Hennings, Arell 0-1). Fouled out--Cal State Fullerton-None, UC Davis-Russell, Colin. Rebounds--Cal State Fullerton 36 (Rowe, Jackson 11), UC Davis 32 (Goode, Garrison 7). Assists--Cal State Fullerton 12 (Awosika, Austen 5), UC Davis 7 (Shorts II, TJ 4). Total fouls--Cal State Fullerton 17, UC Davis 23. Technical fouls--Cal State Fullerton-Robertson, Arkim, UC Davis-Shorts II, TJ.
Kudos to Aggies;
I'm lovin' my new home