LA JOLLA, Calif. - Christian Hatch
scored a game-high 22 points and James McCann
finished with 17, but it wasn't enough as the UC San Diego men's basketball team suffered a 71-64 defeat at the hands of Chico State on Friday evening at RIMAC Arena.
The Tritons held a 10-point lead with a little more than eight minutes to play, but saw the league-leading Wildcats come storming back to claim the victory and deliver a crushing blow to UCSD's playoff chances. The Tritons were outscored 22-7 during a critical six-minute stretch late in the game as momentum swung in the visitors' favor.
Sean Park scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Chico State, which improves to 18-5 overall and 12-5 in California Collegiate Athletic Association play. The Wildcats have won seven of their last eight games and currently sit in a four-way tie for first place in the conference standings.
CSUC clinched a berth in next month's CCAA Tournament with the win.
UCSD, which had won two straight and four of seven coming in, falls to 9-13 on the year and 5-12 in conference play. The Tritons are currently three games out of the eighth and final CCAA playoff berth with five games remaining, so they have an uphill climb to get back into the postseason hunt. UCSD will look to pick up a victory on Saturday against Cal State Stanislaus before hitting the road for four straight to wrap up the regular season.
"I thought we played a great game for 35 minutes tonight," head coach Chris Carlson said. "We did a lot of things well that we're in our game plan, we just turned the ball over in key situations down the stretch and it cost us. You have to credit Chico State. That's a very good team and they made us pay for our mistakes tonight."
Hatch was outstanding in a losing effort for the Tritons, finishing 9-of-13 from the field and grabbing a game-high seven rebounds in what was clearly his best performance since suffering a wrist injury against Cal State East Bay on January 13. He scored 18 of his points in the first half, finishing a perfect 7-for-7 from the field in the period.
McCann was 4-of-8 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the three-point line, while also tallying three rebounds and two assists. Tyler McGrath finished with 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting and hauled down four rebounds.
The Tritons shot 50% for the game, hitting 23 of their 46 shots from the field. UCSD was 4-of-9 from behind the arc.
Amir Carraway added 13 points for Chico State, while Jay Flores and Jordan Semple finished with 10. The Wildcats shot 46% (27-59) from the field and hit 7-of-16 from downtown, 44%.
McCann hit a three-pointer to give UCSD its biggest lead of the game at 50-40 with 8:17 remaining, but CSUC responded with a 10-5 run over the next four minutes to tie the game at 55 all. Carraway hit three triples during the spurt, while the Wildcat pressure forced the Tritons into four costly turnovers.
McGrath sank a jumper to put UCSD back on top, but the Chico offense kept coming as Damario Sims answered with another three, Semple sank a long jumper and Carraway hit a pair of free throws to give the Wildcats a 62-57 advantage with 2:27 remaining.
The Tritons punched back, tying the game at 62 after a clutch three from McGrath and two free throws from McCann, but Sims gave the lead right back to the Wildcats with another three. McCann drew a foul on UCSD's next possession and sank two free throws to cut the deficit to 65-64 with 40 seconds left.
The Tritons fouled right away when the Wildcats inbounded the ball, sending Park to the line, where he hit two to put the Wildcats up by three, 67-64.
After a timeout, McCann lost the ball going up for a potential game-tying three and Flores hit two free throws to seal the win for the visitors.
Tip-off for Saturday's clash with Cal State Stanislaus is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Hatch and fellow seniors Mike Meza and Ryan Wheeler will be honored prior to the game.