LA JOLLA, Calif. -
For the last two weeks, the UC San Diego men's basketball team has traded punches with some of the top teams in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. For the third time in three games, the Tritons were in a position to win and came up short.
UCSD erased a 10-point second half deficit and took a 46-42 lead with six and a half minutes remaining, but Cal Poly Pomona scored seven of the final 10 points and went on to escape with a 54-52 win in a conference matchup on Saturday night at RIMAC Arena.
Mark Rutledge, Dwayne Fells and Mitchel Anderson scored 12 points apiece for the defending national champions, who improve to 9-6 overall and 6-5 in the CCAA. After a rough first month of the season, the Broncos have found their form, winning five straight and six of their last eight.
UCSD falls to 9-9 overall and 4-8 in conference play. The Tritons, who gave third place Cal State San Bernardino all it could handle in a 60-59 loss on Thursday, have now dropped three straight and five of their last six.
"It's emotionally draining, but when you really look at it, I'm just so pleased with our effort," head coach Chris Carlson said when asked about UCSD's two losses this week. "We're battling every night, we're doing a lot of good things, its just unfortunate for our group that we're not getting the ultimate thing we want to get out of this and win the game."
Tyler McGrath scored a career-high 18 points off the bench for UCSD, hitting five threes on nine attempts, while Christian Hatch finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Casey Ryan tallied seven points and eight boards. His potential game-tying runner at the buzzer missed the mark.
The Broncos shot just 36% in the game, while the Tritons finished at a 35% clip. UCSD held a 37-32 rebounding edge and outscored CPP 12-5 in second chance points.
Pomona held a 36-26 lead five minutes into the second half, but UCSD answered with a big 15-1 run over the next 6:37 to grab a 41-37 advantage. McGrath and Ryan Peter both hit threes during the stretch.
The Tritons led 46-42 following another McGrath three, but Anderson followed with a triple of his own and Fells hit a pair of free throws to give the visitors a 47-46 advantage. McGrath came up with another three to put UCSD back in front, but Anderson answered again from downtown, making it 50-49 with three minutes to play.
The visitors extended their advantage to 53-49 on a baseline jumper by Fells with 11 seconds on the clock, before McGrath's fifth three brought the Tritons to within a point with six ticks left.
UCSD fouled Fells on the ensuing play and he converted one of two at the line to up Pomona's lead to 54-52. With four seconds on the clock, the Tritons inbounded the ball and Ryan was able to get a shot off, but he couldn't convert as time expired.
"Pomona's just a very experienced team and they're well-coached," Carlson said. "There's a strong core there from the team that won the national championship last year and their experience was a big key for them."
The Tritons will look to get things turned around on the road against Sonoma State and Humboldt on Thursday and Saturday next week.