Sonoma State overcame a 10-point half-time deficit on Thursday in Humboldt, but could not repeat the feat two nights and 700 miles later in Pomona.
The morning after their 65-56 come-from-behind win against Humboldt State, the Seawolves embarked on a 10-and-a-half-hour voyage. A five-hour bus ride, a delayed flight, a quick film session and another night of sleep later, they returned to the court against the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. This time, they did not find the energy to make up for their slow start.
“The guys were tired, and they played like it,” said Head Coach Pat Fuscaldo. The Broncos won, 55-51. The Seawolves did, again, put together a strong second half. They cut Pomona’s 29-19 halftime lead to within one or two possessions several times, but in each instance one mistake or another prevented them from climbing in front. Missed free throws were Chief among those problems. The Seawolves went 13-of-22 from the line.
“We missed three or four front ends of 1-and-1s,” Fuscaldo said. “So you’re talking about the difference of maybe another eight, 10, or 12 points.”
Like in their nail-biting loss to Cal State Dominguez Hills a week earlier, missed layups were also a major factor. Fuscaldo described one sequence that was especially costly.
“We ran a play for (senior guard Jimmy Golden), he got to the basket, he got fouled. He gets fouled every time,” Fuscaldo said. “The ball was in, and all of a sudden it just popped out of the basket. You start to think, ‘Maybe tonight’s not your night.’”
Golden didn’t get the foul call on that play. That sort of stingy whistle was another common theme Saturday, which is problematic for a team that relies on slowing tempo and living at the line. They hope things are different on Tuesday, when the Broncos come to Rohnert Park for a rematch that doubles as a first-round CCAA playoff game.
“We haven’t been knocking down as many threes lately, so we’ve had to attack the basket,” sophomore wing Mason Phillips said. “Hopefully, being at home will swing the calls our way a little more.”
The Seawolves will enjoy playing at the Wolves’ Den after a grueling weekend, but aren’t solely relying on home-court advantage. Adjustments, particularly on offense, are on everyone’s mind.
Junior guard Jackson Gion brought up ball movement as a key to Tuesday’s game. “We need to push the pace a bit…get ourselves more opportunities to score in the 30 second shot clock,” Gion said.
“They cover ground,” Fuscaldo said of Pomona’s defense. “They’re all 6’4, 6’5, long athletes.” He went on to cite Pomona’s ball pressure and how they double the post as the impetus for adjustments he will make.
The Seawolves do not have the athletes to overpower Pomona, but they do have a balanced scoring attack. Besides Golden’s 11.6 points per game, no one on the team averages double figures, but they have eight or nine guys who are a threat on any given night.
Thursday’s win over Humboldt put that depth on display. Golden had 10, including nine in the team’s dominating 36-17 second half.
But it was 16 from senior center Nathan Molony-Benjamin and nine from junior guard Ronnie Harris that gave Sonoma a boost, powering it to its 15th conference win.
Molony-Benjamin and Harris struggled in Pomona, but senior center Luke Cochran (12 points, including seven in the second half) and Gion (13 points, 10 in the second) nearly brought the team back.
While the second-half comebacks are encouraging, starting flat in two straight games is the more pertinent—and troubling—trend heading into the playoffs.
When asked how the team can play with intensity beginning in the first minute and not the 21st, Gion said, “That’s a good question, and one we’ll try to solve by Tuesday night.”