Sonoma State Men’s Basketball lost Saturday for just the second time in 14 games, falling 58-55 to the Cal State Dominguez Hills Toros. It was a night in which a decisive win could have seen the team crack the top 25.
Coming off a dominant 79-67 win over the Cal State Los Angeles Golden Eagles the night before, the Seawolves were riding the momentum of a seven-game winning streak.
They used that inertia Saturday, which was also Senior Night, to gain a 19-11 lead early, but Dominguez Hills was not afraid to push back. The Toros captured the lead just before halftime, and didn’t lose it for the rest of the game.
“I don’t believe complacency is an issue,” Associate Head Coach Rich Shayewitz said. “Every game in the CCAA is competitive. Saturday nights are always going to be tough battles.”
Forward Brian Johnson best embodied the Seawolves’ lack of quit. Trailing 51-47 with five minutes remaining, the 6’5” junior crashed the offensive glass to grab and put back a missed Jimmy Golden layup in one motion.
On the ensuing possession, Johnson ripped the ball from Toros junior guard Deondre Otis, before failing to score in transition. Johnson came back a minute later to block a three-pointer and start another break, only to see his layup slowly curl out. In the final minute, he came up with another huge block and another offensive rebound.
“He made some monster defensive plays,” Shayewitz said. “Unfortunately we didn’t convert on the offensive end, but we wouldn’t have been in that situation without his defensive presence.”
The game came down to the final possession, of which senior guard Khalid Johnson missed a deep three as time expired. The shot capped a frustrating weekend for Johnson.
A knee injury on Feb. 10 caused Johnson to miss the following game, and he is still battling to put it behind him. He got into early foul trouble Friday, and ended up playing only eight minutes.
“Right now it’s all mental,” Johnson said. He has been one of the team’s most consistent players all season, shooting 45.9 percent on field goals, 37.5v percent from three, 82.2 percent from the line, and averaging a team-best 2.2 assists.
While the Seawolves need Johnson at his best in order to make a playoff run, they have several players that can take over a game.
On Friday, it was seniors Luke Cochran and Ronnie Harris. Cochran scored 19 points on 8-11 shooting, while Harris’ 17 points and six assist helped lead the team to a season-high 79 points, topping the previous mark of 78 set against the Golden Eagles on Dec. 3.
Also instrumental in the win was Golden, who scored 15 points on 6-12 shooting. He had a big game Saturday, too, with 19 points, 11-12 from the line, but the difference in how he scored was indicative of Dominguez Hills’ superior defense.
“LA gave him space so he had more freedom to move…[Dominguez Hills] was face guarding him most of the night and did not give him much space on every catch,” Shayewitz said.
While an inspired Toros team outplayed Sonoma, the team knows what it needs to work on during its season-ending road swing before it returns to the Wolves’ Den for its first home playoff game since 2012.
“We just need to go back to what got us to where we are,” Johnson said. “That’s containing penetration, being more focused defensively, playing inside-out and moving the ball.”
That may sound like a tall order, but as Johnson said, that’s precisely what the Seawolves have done over the past month.
“This is a special group of guys who believes in what we are doing,” Shayewitz said.
Johnson and Shayewitz’s optimism is not an outlier, but the team hopes its sub-par Saturday performance is.