Corey Hawkins took — and made — shot after shot on Saturday afternoon, but it was the one he didn’t attempt that made all the difference.
With the UC Davis men’s basketball team down by a point to Northern Colorado in the final minute, Hawkins found teammate Paolo Mancasola for a game-winning jumper just before the buzzer. The shot handed the Aggies a 79-78 victory in a Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters game presented by ESPN at The Pavilion and had the crowd of 1,631 out of their seats, roaring with delight.
And who could blame them? The shot had to be cathartic for everyone involved as it capped off one of the most stressful final sequences in recent memory.
After the Bears (9-16) went up 78-77 on a 3-pointer by Paul Garnica with 14 seconds left to play, the Aggies (12-14) called a timeout. Coming out of the break, they immediately went to Hawkins, who had already put up a game-high 34 points.
Hawkins took the pass and drove baseline looking for an opening. Instead, he found himself surrounded on every side by defenders with the seconds ticking away. Trapped, Hawkins looked desperately for an open man.
Spotting Mancasola standing unguarded at the top of the key, Hawkins wasted no time in flinging the ball through a swarm of hands to the senior point guard, who caught it and launched an off-balance 18-footer that slipped through the net with 1.8 seconds left.
It was Mancasola’s only make of the afternoon.
“I knew we were going to get something. Corey is so good going to the basket,” Mancasola said afterward. “I couldn’t believe he had the awareness to find me. There was like three guys surrounding him and (because of) the fact that he stayed patient and found me, I had to put in for him.”
Added Hawkins: “I was standing right under the basket, so when he shot it, I knew it was good.”
In a way, the shot saved UCD from itself. The Aggies turned the ball over 18 times and allowed NCU to shoot 54.4 percent from the floor (56.3 percent from beyond the arc). Take away those miscues and it would have been a very different game.
Behind Hawkins and center J.T. Adenrele (18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks), the team connected on 58.8 percent of its shots and looked primed for a blowout in the first half.
After Hawkins hit a jumper, got inside for a lay-up and added a trey for good measure, the Aggies led 28-17 with 6:25 left until halftime.
But UCD started turning the ball over right and left and the Bears capitalized on the mistakes with a 22-6 run that had them up 39-34 at intermission.
“We’ll watch the film and we’ll look at the numbers and talk about the things (at which) we need to get better,” said UCD head coach Jim Les. “It’s not just enough to win (the game). We want to be sure that we don’t make the same mistakes so we can go get those wins next week on the road.”
In the second half, the Aggies rediscovered their groove and surged back to go up by as many as nine. But, as in the first period, the Bears reeled them back before they could run away with the game.
Garnica made it 77-75 on a 3-pointer with 2:18 to go in the game. The Aggies held them scoreless on the next two possessions — at one point getting a massive block from Adenrele that sent the ball careening off the glass — but Hawkins missed out on a chance to seal the game at the line when he missed the front end of a one-and-one. On the next possession, Garnica hit the trey that set the stage for Mancasola’s heroics.
If Mancasola had come up short, it would have undoubtedly left a bad taste in the Aggies’ mouths. But it wouldn’t have hurt them in the bigger scheme of things, as the game was outside of the Big West Conference.
Still, the victory was good for UCD’s morale as it came on the heels of a heartbreaking 71-65 road loss to league leader Long Beach State.
On Saturday, Hawkins had six rebounds and six assists to go along with his points. Ryan Howley added eight points and eight boards and Tyler Les, starting in place of Ryan Sypkens who missed his second straight game with the flu, racked up eight points and eight assists. With the very big exception of his final shot, Mancasola had a quiet night, posting four points and two steals.
The Aggies now look ahead to a return to conference play when they travel to UC Riverside on Thursday and Cal State Fullerton next Saturday.
“These two road games are huge,” coach Les said. “We’re battling with Fullerton, who is neck and neck (with us) and Riverside has really been tough all year.
“So we know it’s not going to be easy, but if we can go have success on the road, boy, we set ourselves up for that last weekend (game against Long Beach State) to control our destiny heading into Anaheim (for the Big West Tournament).”
Notes: Josh Ritchart was the only other Aggie who scored. He had seven points. … UCD outrebounded NCU 28-24. … The Bears’ bench outscored the Aggie reserves 29-7.
— Reach Will Bellamy at email@example.com