From nervous to ecstatic to disappointed and back to nervous, Sonoma State Men’s Basketball has felt every turn of the proverbial emotional roller coaster this past week.
That ride culminated while watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday night, when the team learned it had landed a No. 7 seed, and would face No. 2 seed Hawaii Pacific on Friday, March 10 in San Diego. Upon the announcement, the players dropped their remaining bites of pizza and jumped up, rejoicing and embracing.
The first-round game will lead to another steep drop, however, if the team repeats the mistakes it made during its 65-55 loss to San Francisco State in the CCAA Semifinals on Friday, March 3. Like San Francisco State, Hawaii Pacific boasts a daunting offense (87.1 points, 21st in the nation).
“If we don’t correct the things we need to correct, we’re going to feel like this next Friday,” said Head Coach Pat Fuscaldo.
After the semifinals loss, another opportunity was all the Seawolves could hope for. They battled throughout the March 3 matchup, cutting an 11-point deficit to three at the half, and then a 12-point deficit to three again, trailing 58-55 with 2:21 remaining. They would then fall behind by double digits for a third time, and the final buzzer stymied another comeback.
This marked the low point of Sonoma State’s week. When asked about his mood after the loss, junior guard Jackson Gion said the team was “definitely disappointed.”
Two days later, hours before the NCAA selection show, Gion said, “that feeling hasn’t necessarily changed, but I think now we’re more hopeful than anything.” It wasn’t until the announcement at 8:20 p.m. that the disappointment turned back to excitement.
The week ended how it started. The Seawolves were hyped up as their Feb. 28 home playoff game against Cal Poly Pomona approached, and the adrenaline only escalated through what ended up being a 63-56 win.
“The energy was high, emotions were high with the coaches,” said senior guard Ronnie Harris. “It was the last home game and potentially last game…we weren’t gonna go out like that. We’ve been through too much.”
Harris played his part in extending Sonoma’s season that night. He iced the game with four consecutive free throws (the result of successive technicals on Pomona’s Jordan Ogundiran), and his ability to quickly push the ball into the front court was key once Pomona turned up its press in the second half.
“Pomona is long and athletic,” said Harris. “We had to be on the attack…if we waited and allowed them to set up their defense, then it’s too late.”
Harris’ 10 points were second to senior guard Jimmy Golden’s 13, but it was a balanced attack that won Sonoma the game. Senior center Luke Cochran and sophomore wing Armani Nicolis each scored 8, senior guard Khalid Johnson put in 7 and senior center Nathan Molony-Benjamin and Gion added 6 apiece.
When the Seawolves score with that kind of balance, they generally win. That’s a credit to their scoring defense (56.9 points allowed) and field goal-percentage defense (38.1 percent), both the best in the nation.
“There’s the conference championship, and the tournament championship,” said Fuscaldo. “We didn’t win either one of those, but we did win the national defensive championship.”
Between the San Francisco State loss and learning their tournament fate, Fuscaldo took the team out to dinner.
“It was a little subdued at first, but then the guys started to look up,” said the coach. “You gotta understand…once you take guys to eat, they aren’t disappointed anymore.”
Anticipation and nerves will no doubt mount as the Friday showdown with Hawaii Pacific nears. After a week full of helix turns, however, the Seawolves’ roller-coaster ride has temporarily leveled out.