Second-year head coach Jim Les has been saying all preseason that this is a different UC Davis men’s basketball team than the squad that won just five games last season.
On Friday, the Aggies went out and proved it in their season opener, taking Oklahoma State down to the wire before losing 73-65 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Three UCD players scored in double figures, paced by Corey Hawkins, who had 13 points in his first game as an Aggie.
In addition to Hawkins, Ryan Howley finished with a double-double of 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Josh Ritchart added 10 points for UCD, which had the game tied at 61-61 with 5:10 to play.
“Even though the loss may sting, I told my players that they should be proud of their efforts,” Les said. “If we can continue playing like that, we will become a tough team to play against.
“The players were ready to work hard and compete against a talented team.”
The Aggies used hustle and hard work to stay close to the Cowboys, finishing with a 43-29 rebounding advantage. Led by Howley, all nine UCD players that saw action recorded at least one rebound.
After an up-and-down first half, Ryan Sypken’s second 3-pointer of the period had the Aggies trailing just 37-32 at the break.
Oklahoma State stretched its lead to nine points early in the second half, but UCD came all the way back to take a 46-45 advantage on freshman guard Darius Graham’s jumper with 13:35 to go. Graham’s trey a minute later gave the Aggies a 51-48 lead, but an 11-1 run by the Cowboys made it 59-52 with 8:15 remaining. The teams were tied twice more, the final time on Ritchart’s layup with just over 5:10 left.
“Our guys were excited about the challenge … in no way were we fearful about competing here,” said Les.
With players forced to sit due to foul trouble, or cramping as the game progressed, the UCD bench made its mark in a game that saw five lead changes and four ties.
In his first game as an Aggie, Graham tallied seven points and five rebounds, while teammate Tyler Les chipped in another six points by connecting on two of his four 3-point attempts.
UCD will return to action on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m., hosting Northern Arizona in its home opener at The Pavilion.