PORTLAND — Josh Ritchart was rolling on Friday, and it was the Ryan Sypkens show on Saturday as the UC Davis men’s basketball opened the Portland State Tournament with a pair of victories.
After Ritchart scored 35 points to lead the Aggies to an 80-75 win over SIUE, Sypkens nailed five 3-pointers — included one to force overtime and another that stood as the game-winner — in a 64-61 triumph over Loyola at the Peter W. Stott Center.
The wins pushed UCD (3-2) over .500 for the first time this season.
“I thought this was our best defensive effort of the year,” Aggie head coach Jim Les said following Saturday’s game. “Even though we struggled at times offensively, we played great the entire game on defense and came up with some crucial stops.”
Down by three with 15 seconds remaining in regulation, UCD missed its initial game-tying opportunity. But when the Ramblers’ London Dokubo grabbed what he thought was the win-clinching rebound with four seconds still on the clock, he had no idea that Aggie guard Darius Graham was nearby and ready to change the fortunes of both teams in an instant.
With one swipe, Graham pushed the ball out of Dokubo’s hands. Once he collected the loose ball, he found a waiting Sypkens behind the arc. Wide open, with an unobstructed look, Sypkens drained a straightaway trey with 1.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 52-52.
“I knew the shot was good the moment it left my hands,” Sypkens said.
Competing in its first overtime game of the year, UCD scored the first basket to take an early advantage, but the period featured four lead changes and two ties. Sypkens was responsible for the final lead change when he nailed another three, this time from the far corner, to turn a one-point Loyola lead into a two-point Aggie advantage.
“Even though they were denying me all game long, I wanted to make the most of my opportunities when they were available,” Sypkens said. “Coach drew up a play for me, there was no doubt that shot was going in once I let it fly.”
And when the Ramblers made their attempt at a game-winner it was Sypkens who recorded his team’s sixth, and final steal on the play.
“As a fifth-year senior, (Sypkens) really showed his toughness tonight and made plays when the team needed it the most,” Les said.
Sypkens made 5-of-6 from 3-point range for 15 points, while Corey Hawkins finished with a game-high 17 points. Coming off of his career-high effort the previous day against SIUE, Ritchart nearly earned his second-straight double-double by finishing with nine points and nine rebounds.
Iggy Nujic added a career-high eight points off the bench.
On Friday, Ritchart set his career best by making 12-of-14 shots against the Cougars and added a personal best of 13 rebounds — a game high — to post UCD’s first double-double of the season.
“Even though I missed my first jump-hook, I felt great throughout the rest of the game. I was just taking what the defense was giving me; all credit goes to my teammates, I could not have played the way I did (Friday) without them,” Ritchart said.
SIUE started the game strong by building a first-half lead that swelled to as many as 13 points. However, by scoring 11 of the final 12 points of the period — capped by a three-quarter court 3-pointer by Ritchart — the Aggies were down just two points at the break.
“Making a shot three-quarters away from the basket is one way to figure out that you are having a great night,” said Ritchart. “That was a big basket. Instead of heading into halftime down five, we only trailed by two and were able to create additional momentum.”
After the break, UCD completed a 23-point swing when it opened an 11-point advantage with 9:25 remaining.
Graham, responsible for a game-high seven of his team’s 14 assists, and Nujic, who chipped in seven points off the bench, frustrated the Cougars on defense by standing tall and drawing charges all afternoon.
“I liked our energy on defense, I liked how we helped each other out — we took four charges — and played well defensively,” Les said. “To win a game after being down 13 is a great way to build confidence heading into our next two games.”
The Aggies are back on the court Sunday for their tournament finale against host Portland State at 3 p.m.
Links for a free video stream and internet audio broadcast are available at www.ucdavisaggies.com and Bill Herenda will call the action on KSAC (105.5 FM).