LA JOLLA, Calif. -
The UC San Diego men's basketball team earned its second consecutive victory on Saturday, escaping with a 48-46 win over visiting Cal State Dominguez Hills in a California Collegiate Athletic Association clash at RIMAC Arena.
MacKenzie McCullough scored a career-high 16 points to lead three players in double figures for the Tritons, who withstood a furious rally from the visitors to earn their fourth win in seven games.
Leading by 11 points with a little more than two minutes remaining, UCSD saw its lead cut down one, but held on for the nail-biting victory. UC San Diego improves to 9-12 overall and 5-11 in the CCAA, climbing to within three games of eighth place Cal State Stanislaus in the conference standings with six games to play.
The top eight teams will advance to the CCAA Championship Tournament next month.
Cal State Dominguez Hills falls to 11-7 overall and 10-6 in conference play, losing for the second time in as many nights after winning four in a row from January 20-28.
McCullough finished 5-of-10 from the floor and hit 4-of-7 from the three-point line to shatter his previous scoring mark of nine points. The second year guard scored 14 of his 16 points in the opening half and also finished with five rebounds and two assists.
Justin Brue finished with 12 points and eight boards for the Tritons, while James McCann tallied 11 points and six assists. UCSD shot 42% for the game, hitting 16 of 38 shots from the field.
The Triton defense was the real story on Saturday, holding the Toros to just 34 points until their offense erupted to get back in the game in the final two minutes. UCSD held CSUDH to a total of nine field goals in each half and 32% (18-56) shooting for the game. The Toros shot 26% in the second half, but still had a shot to steal a victory away from the Tritons.
"We gave up 46 points tonight and if we have the ability to do that, it puts up in a position to win," head coach Chris Carlson said. "We've felt all year that there isn't a game on our schedule that we can't win. What's been so impressive about this group is we've never stopped working. We've continued to focus on improving."
McCullough hit a pair of free throws to give UCSD what seemed to be a very comfortable 45-34 lead with 2:20 to play, but CSUDH came roaring back, outscoring the Tritons 10-1 over the next 1:40 to pull within 46-44. The visitors' full court pressure gave UCSD fits during the run, forcing four critical Triton turnovers.
Clinging to a two-point lead, McCann was fouled and earned a trip to the line, but he was only able to convert one of two, giving UCSD a 47-44 lead with 27 seconds left. Wayne Andrews scored on a putback on the Toros' next possession to cut the deficit to one with 14 seconds to play.
The Tritons got the ball into Hatch, who was immediately fouled, but he made just one at the line as well. With UCSD leading 48-46, CSUDH got the ball back with 11 seconds remaining and a chance to tie it or take the lead, but Everett Brown's three-point try was short and time expired before anyone could secure the rebound.
Andrews scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Toros, while Robert Willhite finished with nine points, four boards and a pair of assists.
The Tritons, who led by as many as 13 points in the first half, won despite turning the ball over a season-high 21 times.
"There's definitely still room for improvement," Carlson added. "We've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. If we do that, we're going to make shots. We're going to continue to work on those things and keep getting better."
UCSD returns to the court on Friday when Chico State comes to town. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. at RIMAC Arena.