LA JOLLA, Calif. - James McCann scored a game-high 18 points and Justin Brue finished with 13 to lead the UC San Diego men's basketball team to a narrow 63-62 victory over visiting Sonoma State on Friday evening at RIMAC Arena.
UCSD saw its 10-point lead cut to one with 24 seconds remaining, but Brue and McCann combined to hit three clutch free throws to seal the victory. The Tritons shot just 41% from the field, but got the job done on the other end, holding one of the better offenses in the California Collegiate Athletic Association to under 40% to pick up their second consecutive win.
UCSD improves to 7-9 overall and 3-8 in the CCAA, while Sonoma State drops to 7-8 on the year and 5-6 in conference play. The Seawolves had won three straight and five of six coming in.
"Our effort was definitely there again tonight, we just didn't play with consistency throughout the whole game," fifth-year head coach Chris Carlson said. "There were times when I thought Sonoma was the aggressor tonight, certainly in the last few minutes there, but we were able to withstand their run and that shows growth and maturity on our part."
McCann finished 6-of-13 from the field, scoring 12 of his 18 points in the decisive second half. He hit 2-of-4 from the three-point line and also finished with two rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes. The sophomore point guard is averaging 19.7 points on 51% shooting in UCSD's last three games.
"James is continuing to get better," Carlson added. "He's starting to realize how people are going to guard him and he's making adjustments on the fly. That only means good things for us."
Brue went 3-of-8 from the field, but sank 7-of-8 at the free throw line to reach double figures for the fourth straight game. He also grabbed a game-high seven rebounds. MacKenzie McCullough, who got the first start of his career in place of an injured Ryan Peters, finished with eight points and six boards, while Ryan Wheeler gave the Tritons 13 good minutes off the bench, scoring a season-high nine points and hauling down four rebounds.
Steven Pratt scored 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting to pace the Seawolves, adding seven rebounds and six assists to his scoring total. Patrick Scott finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals.
After taking a 29-26 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Tritons were in control throughout the second half and led by as many as 12 at 56-44 with 3:48 remaining. A Pratt three-point play brought the visitors to within eight (58-50) with 3:06 left, but Brue answered with an easy bucket on UCSD's next trip to push the lead back to 10.
Just when it looked like the Tritons were ready to put the game away, the Seawolves came roaring back. Sterling Arterberry hit a three to spark a 9-0 SSU run as the Seawolves cut the UCSD lead to just one at 60-59 with 24 seconds remaining.
Brue hit two free throws to put UCSD in front 62-59 and, after Will Olsem came up empty on potential game-tying three for SSU, McCann grabbed the rebound and got fouled. He missed the first free throw, but converted the second, and that point proved to be the difference as Scott hit a three from the corner to make it 63-62 at the final horn.
The Tritons will now take on Humboldt State on Saturday evening to wrap up their four-game homestand. The Lumberjacks defeated league-leading Cal State San Bernardino, 65-61, on Friday night.