Despite falling behind by 16 points in the first half, the UC Davis men’s basketball team wasn’t going to give up its Big West opener so easily.
Sophomore Josh Ritchart tied a career high with five 3-pointers to help the Aggies come back to tie the game late in the second half, but host Cal State Fullerton was able to squeak out a 65-64 victory on Thursday.
It was the sixth straight win by the Titans (9-3), who survived despite 19 points from Ritchart and 11 from UCD’s Harrison DuPont. Kwame Vaughn led Fullerton with 17 points, pacing four players in double figures.
The Aggies (1-12) trailed 36-20 with 3:44 left in the opening half and were down 43-30 at halftime. However, they shot 56 percent (14-of-25) from the floor after the break, got to within three points early in the second half and stayed close before tying the game 59-59 on Eddie Miller’s jumper in the paint with just over two minutes to go.
UCD later trailed 63-61 while working for a final shot, but Miller’s attempt was off the mark. Vaughn, who earlier hit a key 3-pointer just after the Aggies had tied it at 59-all, followed with two free throws to make it a 65-61 lead. Ritchart’s fifth trey at the buzzer made it a one-point game.
“In the second half we took away transition baskets, we got big stops, we got first rebounds, we executed well and got good shots offensively, and we didn’t turn it over,” said UCD’s first-year coach Jim Les. “That translated into giving ourselves a chance to win.”
Fullerton shot 57.7 percent (15 of 26) in the first half, leading by as many as 16 points. Orane Chin was a big part of the Titans’ attack, hitting all five of his shots and scoring 10 points, matching Andre Hardy who also had 10 points.
But the Aggies came out strong in the second half, opening with a 12-2 run over the first five minutes to climb to within 45-42. DuPont had six points in the spurt, while three other UCD players also scored. Later, Ritchart and Tyler Les later hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 49-48 midway through the half.
Fullerton opened the lead to 59-53 with less than five minutes to go, but UCD’s Alex Tiffin scored twice inside and Miller tied it with his bucket in the key with 2:15 remaining. Vaughn answered with a trey and the game stayed close the rest of the way.
Tyrell Corbin’s layup in traffic brought the Aggies’ deficit down to 62-61 with 1:25 to go, then D.J. Seeley’s free throw with 25 seconds left set up the exciting finish.
Ritchart reached double figures for the first time in five games, while making five 3-pointers for the sixth time in his career and the third time this season. He was 5-for-11 from beyond the arc. Tiffin supported his six points with a career-high 10 rebounds.
UCD held the Titans to a season-low 39.3 percent from the floor, including just 23.3 percent (7-for-30)in the second half. The Aggies also outrebounded Fullerton, 35-34.
“I thought we did some really good things,” Les said. “Now we’ve got to build on that.”
The game brought to a close a five-game road trip for UCD, which will host UC Riverside on Thursday (7 p.m.) and UC Irvine on Jan. 7.
“Hopefully, people will come out and support this team because you’re watching a group mature before your eyes and before it’s said and done they’re going to be having some fun locker rooms versus the not-so-fun ones,” Les said.