The Sonoma State University men’s basketball team was feeling like they were on Cloud Nine after their last two home games, which extended their win streak to four before this weekend’s losses against Cal State San Marcos and UC San Diego.
The first was a come-from-behind win against Cal State Monterey Bay where the Seawolves went on a 23-8 to finish the game on top. The next, an emotional win where they held off a late-game charge from the Pioneers of Cal State East Bay.
They carried this momentum down to Southern California to face the Cal State San Marcos Cougars, where a touch matchup was waiting at The Sports Center where the Cougars play their home games.
When asked about the team’s recent success, leading scorer Armani Nicolis said that he liked where the unit is at right now.
“Usually after the winter break, things began to fall in place and roles are defined,” he said. “We are just beginning to click at the perfect time, seeing as we’re currently in the heart of our conference schedule.”
Guard Jordan Fleck attributes the success on the defensive side of the ball. “We have just bought in to the defense as a team and seem to be playing smarter. Also, understanding how to put runs together when we try and turn that defensive intensity to offense.”
Riding that confidence wave, the Seawolves got off to a good start, building up an early lead and then maintaining it for the majority of the first half.
The Seawolves got their early contributions from all over the roster, including buckets from guards Davion Mize, Jackson Gion, Armani Nicolis and Lewayne Grant.
They also got some help from the big men down low Jordan Hickman and Jeremy Lillis. But, late in the first half, as Sonoma State started to miss their shots, star San Marcos guard Ethan Alvano and company started to take hold of the game. They went on a 16-4 run in the last eight minutes of the first half, where Alvano had 11 of the 16 for the Cougars.
To start the second half, the other primary guard for the Cougars broke off with a run of his own. Brian Wright scored eight points in the first 4:28 of the half, which included three buckets and a pair of free throws. This run boosted the Cougars to a 22-7 run in the first part of the half, eventually building the San Marcos lead to 50-29 with 11 minutes left in the game.
“We felt like we played a good first half and we just never matched there intensity as they went on a crazy run,” he said. “They took advantage of our mistakes including missed layups and turnovers. Because of that, we gave them a double digit lead in the second half, which is very hard to comeback from with this good of a team.”
But, in fact, they did just that. Nicolis and company came out of that big deficit with a 13-2 run of their own to cut the lead to 10.
They then continued on that run and made it to a 22-5 stretch for the Seawolves, which brought the team, a 2017 NCAA National Tournament participant just a season ago, to within 4 points, 55-51, with 3:33 left to go.
Alvano and the Cougars’ home lead would not go easily. The Cougars called a timeout to regroup, which proved beneficial for them as they closed the game by only allowing three more Sonoma State points, eventually coming out on top of the Seawolves, 65-58.
Though the Seawolves lost the game, Nicolis chose to take a positive outlook from the contest.
“After coming back from a big deficit, the character and heart from the team was revealed. With that you can accomplish anything,” he said.
The Seawolves and their 9-9 record on the season then traveled down south to La Jolla to face the second best team in the CCAA on Saturday.
The UCSD Tritons, who were 13-6 before the contest, were coming off of a big win against Cal State San Marcos, contrary to the Seawolves, who fell to the Cougars on Thursday night, snapping their 4-game winning streak.
“We felt confident and excited to get back on the court against UCSD. We wanted to get out on the court and redeem ourselves,” said Jordan Fleck.
The Seawolves were a little slow coming out of gates and, lead by sophomore forward Scott Everman, the Tritons took advantage, outsourcing Sonoma State 13-4 in the first 9:19 of the game.
From that point on, the Seawolves would constantly find a way to get themselves back in the game, going on smaller scoring runs of their own. But, as good basketball teams do, the Tritons always seemed to have an answer to stop a big Sonoma State momentum swing.
By the end of the physical first half, the Seawolves were able to cut their deficit to six points heading to the locker room.
Despite the deficit, Fleck thought the team was in a good position.
“Our big thing is that we needed to just stick to our game plan that we had before the game. We had that and also we knew how to play tough, smart and with heart,” he said.
The Seawolves, though never leading at any point during the contest, never allowed the Tritons to get out of reach. They always had some answer to their scoring outbursts, especially in the second half of the ballgame.
The Seawolves concluded their weekend down South going 0-2 in two extremely hard fought games.
“After playing the top two teams in the conference, we believe that we have the ability to compete with anyone in the league, but we need to act like belong in those games and finish,” said Nicolis.
Luckily, the Seawolves do not have to wait long to prove themselves, in their next two games, they will face both UCSD and San Marcos yet again starting Feb. 2 at the Wolves’ Den.
“We all played hard. Yea we were disappointed that we ultimately didn’t get the win, but we all believed that we played and fought hard against one of the better teams in our conference,” said Tillis.