GAME NOTES: The Long Beach State 49ers try to clinch the Big West Conference regular-season title outright on Thursday night, as they roll into The Pavilion to face off with the UC Davis Aggies.
Despite owning a 17-11 overall record and having a two-game lead in the Big West standings at 13-3, LBSU has been struggling of late, as it has dropped back-to-back bouts at home versus Stephen F. Austin (68-60) and UC Irvine (72-69). The 49ers haven't been very strong on the road this season (6-8).
UC Davis' 14-14 overall mark may seem uninspired, but it has shown a dramatic turnaround from the 2011-12 season when it went a lowly 5-26. The Aggies have won three straight games, including a 71-68 road tilt at Cal State Fullerton last Saturday, to improve to 9-7 in conference play.
LBSU has dominated the all-time series with UC Davis, 17-2, including a 71-65 triumph at home on Feb. 20.
After trailing as many as 13 points in the second half, LBSU battled all the way back to tie the game at 63-63 with 2:33 remaining, only to have UC Irvine answer with the game-winning 3-pointer a minute and half later. The 49ers shot a respectable 44.4 percent from the field, but they were ultimately plagued by not taking advantage of their limited opportunities at the foul line (6- of-12). Mike Caffey did what he could to spark the comeback, pouring in 23 points on 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. Keala King stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, as did James Ennis with 12 points, eight board and four steals. Dan Jennings (10 points, nine boards) rounded out a balanced effort in defeat. Surprisingly, LBSU ranks in the middle of the Big West in both scoring offense (70.1 ppg) and scoring defense (70.3 ppg), mostly due to its rough stretch of non-conference games early in the season. Ennis is on the shortlist for conference player of the year consideration, putting up 16.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bpg. Caffey brings 12.5 ppg and 3.8 apg to the table, while Tony Freeland (10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), King (10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.3 apg) and Jennings (9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) have also been impressive.
UC Davis led by 10 points early in the second half before Fullerton went on an 8-0 run to make the game close again. After battling back-and-forth down the stretch, J.T. Adenrele came through with the game-winning jumper with under two minutes left to seal the deal for the Aggies. The bucket put an exclamation point on Adenrele's excellent performance, as he tallied 22 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Corey Hawkins was also strong in the triumph with 16 points, while Ryan Sypkens chipped in 14 points before fouling out. On the season, Hawkins is the conference's top scorer, pouring in 20.3 ppg on 47.2 percent field goal efficiency. Complementing him beautifully is Sypkens (14.4 ppg), who is one of the nation's top deep threats, making 99 3-pointers at an incredible 47.4 percent clip. Adenrele does the dirty work in the paint with 12.8 ppg (.576 FG percentage), 6.1 rpg and 1.5 bpg. As a team, the Aggies have one of the strongest offensive squads in the league (71.7 ppg), but they are plagued by a defensive effort that surrenders an average of 71.8 ppg.
UC Davis is clearly a dangerous team with Hawkins, Sypkens and Adenrele on its side, but its defense has been a major issue in taking the next step. LBSU has been struggling of late, but it will start to feel a little more urgency in this one as it tries to wrap up the regular-season title.
Game Date and Time