James McCann scored a game-high 16 points and Tyler McGrath finished with 15 to lead the way for the Tritons, who outscored the Golden Eagles 14-9 over the final 8:45 to pull out the win and send the raucous crowd of 3,642 home happy.
UCSD improves to 8-12 overall and 4-11 in California Collegiate Athletic Association play with the victory, winning for the third time in its last four games at home. The Tritons, who are currently in 10th place in the conference standings with seven games remaining, picked up a much-needed win after losing three straight from January 21-28.
Cal State L.A. falls to 13-6 on the season and 9-6 in the CCAA. The Golden Eagles had won three of four coming in, but dropped to fifth place in the league with the loss.
"That was a great win tonight," head coach Chris Carlson said. "It was great to have such a spirited crowd behind us and they really helped carry us through. Cal State L.A. is a very good team and they played well tonight, so we'll take it."
After the offense struggled mightily in back-to-back losses to Cal Poly Pomona and San Francisco State on the road last week, the Tritons were much sharper on their home floor on Friday, hitting 23 of their 48 shots from the field, 48%. UCSD also had a good night from downtown, dropping 6-of-12 from the three-point line.
McCann and McGrath shouldered most of the load, combining to score 31 of the Tritons' 57 points. McCann finished 5-of-7 from the field and added three rebounds and a game-high five assists, while McGrath hit 6-of-7 and finished 3-for-3 from behind the arc. He also finished with three rebounds and four steals.
Chris Robinson scored 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting to lead the Golden Eagles, who shot 44% (22-50) from the field. Quinton Watkins finished with 10.
Friday's game was close throughout with neither team leading by more than seven points. McCann scored four straight to give the Tritons a 43-36 edge with 14 and a half minutes remaining, but the visitors answered with an 11-0 run over the next six minutes to take a 47-43 lead.
After UCSD came back with the next seven to go in front 50-47, Leland Jones converted inside and Watkins hit a long three to put the visitors up by one, 53-52, with 3:31 left to play.
McGrath answered with his third trey of the game to give the lead back to the Tritons and, after a critical Golden Eagle turnover, MacKenzie McCullough hit a runner in the paint to make it 55-52 in favor of UCSD. McCann's jumper extended the lead to 57-52 with 54 seconds remaining, all but sealing it for the Tritons.
Cal State L.A. refused to go quietly into the La Jolla night, however, as Jordan Richard answered with a two-handed dunk and Jones hit two free throws following a huge steal at midcourt.
McCann was fouled with 13 seconds left on the ensuing possession, but he missed the front end of his one-and-one, leaving the door wide open for the Golden Eagles. Fortunately, Watkins' jumper missed the mark and the rebound rolled out of bounce as time expired and the Tritons escaped with the win.
Christian Hatch, UCSD's leading scorer and rebounder, returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with a wrist injury and finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes.
The Tritons will look to make it two in a row when Cal State Dominguez Hills invades RIMAC on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Toros lost a 67-47 decision at Cal State San Bernardino on Friday.