Luck or instinct — call it whatever you want.
Either way, Corey Hawkins was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time on Thursday night.
With the UC Davis men’s basketball team deadlocked in a 67-67 tie with Cal Poly and the seconds winding down, Aggie point guard Paolo Mancasola launched an off-balance 3-pointer. The ball ricocheted off the rim and right to Hawkins, who wasted no time in draining a 15-foot jumper as the buzzer sounded.
The shot lifted UCD to a 69-67 victory over the Mustangs at The Pavilion and prompted the Aggie bench to storm the court and seemingly everyone in the building to roar in pure, uninhibited joy.
“It was just a routine 15-footer,” Hawkins said with a laugh. “Plain and simple. That was it. I was wide open so I shot it.”
The celebration was momentarily interrupted when officials signaled that they intended to review whether Hawkins had gotten the shot off before time expired. After several tense moments of players, coaches, and fans holding their breath, the refs signaled that the ball had indeed been released in time. The Aggie pack was reignited and began stamping their feet and chanting, “UCD! UCD! UCD!”
For Hawkins, it was sweet redemption. Just moments earlier, he had fouled Cal Poly’s Dylan Royer on a 3-point attempt and Royer made all three free throws to tie the game.
UCD (5-9, 1-2 Big West) got its first conference win — and handed the Mustangs (7-7, 3-1) their first league loss — despite playing through some pain.
Hawkins notched 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists even though an injury forced him to start the game on the bench.
“We had some guys banged up — (Ryan) Howley banged up, Corey banged up, Tyler (Les) was banged up,” said Aggie head coach Jim Les. “Not starting them (allows us) to buy them some minutes, not knowing how they are going to react and how much (we’re) going to get out of them.”
When asked about the shot, coach Les added: “To me, it looked like nine other guys stopped playing. (Corey) has got a nose for the ball and a knack for hitting off-balance shots. Those (skills) you can’t teach.”
UCD also got strong showings from J.T. Adenrele, who had a game-high 20 points to go with six rebounds, and Ryan Sypkens, who matched Hawkins with 15 points. All three were key in digging the Aggies out of a 24-8, first-half hole.
The trio combined to score 17 points during a 23-13 UCD run that cut the Mustangs’ lead to 37-31 before intermission. Hawkins capped off the surge by driving baseline and pulling off a tricky reverse layup in traffic.
The run continued into the second half, with the Aggies outscoring Cal Poly, 8-1, in the first four minutes of the period to take a 42-38 lead. The visitors battled back, however, and the two teams traded leads down the stretch.
The Mustangs appeared to be on the verge of pulling away with four minutes to go when Reese Marshall connected from deep to give his squad a 64-59 advantage. But Sypkens responded with a trey of his own and Hawkins slashed his way inside to put UCD back on top 65-64.
Free throws by Josh Ritchart and Royer set the stage for Hawkins’ heroics.
Behind the Big Three of Hawkins, Sypkens and Adenrele, UCD outrebounded Cal Poly, 32-26, scored 30 points in the paint, and shot 60.5 percent from the floor. The locals did turn the ball over 17 times, but held the Mustangs to 19 points off the miscues.
“I thought they outworked, outhustled and really wanted this win,” Les said of his guys. “They never hung their heads and continued to make plays. I think the game rewards you when you respect it like that.”
With the victory, UCD got on track after a pair of frustrating losses to start Big West play. The Aggies now have several days to heal and prepare for UC Santa Barbara, which comes to The Pavilion on Saturday for a 7 p.m. contest.
Notes: The Aggies had four players in double figures, with Ritchart scoring 10 points to join Hawkins, Sypkens and Adenrele. … Olivier-Paul Betu started in place of Hawkins and recorded five points and two assists in 15 minutes.
— Reach Will Bellamy at email@example.com