While the Sonoma State University Seawolves’ 64-55 win over the Cal State East Bay Pioneers on Friday was more textbook in score, their 52-39 win over the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters the following night was more indicative of how they have played during their six-game winning streak.
While their names might indicate otherwise, the Pioneers and Otters are both bottom dwellers. East Bay is 12-13 (5-12 in CCAA play), while Monterey Bay is 3-20 (1-16). Half a game out of first, the Seawolves (17-5, 13-3) were looking for an easy weekend sweep.
Things did not start out according to plan. The 34 points East Bay scored in the first period were the most Sonoma State has allowed over its past 12 halves, and the most since its last loss on Jan. 21.
“We came out a bit flat,” said junior guard Jackson Gion. The Seawolves found themselves trailing 29-34 at the break, but some halftime adjustments got the defense back to its stifling ways. They allowed just 15 points over the first 17 minutes of the period.
As has often been the case with this year’s Seawolves, their defense held while their offense searched for a spark. With 2:56 remaining, a Gion 3-pointer ignited them. The shot broke a 49-49 tie, and the team scored 15 points over the game’s final three minutes.
Against another struggling team the following night, the Seawolves made sure not to dig another early hole.
While Monterey Bay is even lower in the standings (last in the CCAA), the Seawolves could not afford to come out lackadaisical, especially because senior starting point guard Khalid Johnson was out with a knee injury.
Johnson’s absence forced senior guard Ronnie Harris into the starting lineup. Normally an instrumental reserve for the Seawolves, he knew he had to fill a different role.
“When I come off the bench I get to see how the other team is playing…I can make adjustments accordingly,” said Harris. “When I start, it’s really about setting the tone.”
Harris did just that in what was his first start of the year, scoring a team-high 12 points on only six shots. He also went 4-4 from the free throw line, while refraining from turning the ball over.
“Ron is a great player and he was taking what the defense gave him,” said Johnson. “There’s no drop off when either of us are in the game.”
Harris and Gion—typically the team’s top two guards off the bench—provided the necessary offensive fire with Johnson sidelined and others struggling from the field. The two combined for 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while the rest of the team went 9-of-34.
Neither team had much going offensively early. It was a 4-3 game after five-plus minutes, and while a brief scoring burst expanded the Seawolves’ advantage to 21-7, they again cooled off. At halftime, the lead was only 27-21.
The defense again held long enough for the offense to heat up, and for the second straight night, it was a Gion triple that led to a game-sealing run. This time, the score was tied at 29-29, when Gion provided the first three of 13 unanswered points.
“I think it gives us confidence when me or any of the other guys are knocking down shots,” said Gion. “We know our defense is going to get stops.”
The Seawolves expect to have Johnson back next weekend, and his presence will be key in keeping their winning streak alive against two tougher opponents in Cal State Dominguez Hills (12-10, 8-8) and Cal State LA (13-13, 8-9).
As long as the team continues to defend, rely on its depth and enjoy timely offensive bursts, however, there’s little reason to expect the scorching Seawolves to cool off.