Men’s basketball drops final conference games, seeded sixth in tournament

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

The Highlanders dominated the first-place Aggies several times throughout a Thursday night showdown, but came up short with a 61-59 loss.

Jaylen Bland of UCR led the Highlanders with 18 points, three of them from beyond the arc, eight rebounds and three assists, followed by Taylor Johns, who recorded 17 points, eight rebounds and dished two assists.

Coming into the game, the 13-2 Aggies were attempting to clinch the conference title. UCR, on the other hand, was 7-7 in conference, and looking to climb up the ranks. Climb they did, for most of the game, forcing nine turnovers and gaining a 16-point lead in the first half.

Even with the large deficit, the Aggies were difficult to stop as they outscored the Highlanders by 11 points in the remainder of the half, bringing the score to 30-25 at the end of the first half. Johns also gave out three of the allowed five fouls, which limited his dominant play in the second half.

At the start of the second half, the hot Highlanders scored seven of the first nine points, leading by 13 with 9:40 on the clock. UC Davis, which leads the nation in three-point percentage, did not stay down long and drained nine straight points to bring the game to 48-45.

Then at 6:16 remaining, with UCR leading by seven points, both teams went cold. It wasn’t until 3:48 that the Highlanders scored, but the Aggies were unstoppable by then. Davis scored eight straight to grab the lead, 55-54, with 1:08 remaining. Johns made a layup but the Aggies responded with a jumper and never looked back.

Foul trouble is what may have cost UCR the game, whose aggressive play resulted in 32 fouls compared to UC Davis’s 13.

Looking to right the ship and position themselves within the upper echelon of the Big West playoffs, the UCR men’s basketball team, despite playing at the Student Recreation Center Arena lost their regular season finale to CSULB, 59-58.

Some students decided to watch the game to support their Highlanders, despite having to miss the first part of Heat. The basketball program also celebrated senior night, bidding farewell to guards Nick Gruninger, Charles Standifer and Austin Quick as well as to forwards Steven Thornton and Colin Gruber.

UCR’s lead scorers were Gruninger, Taylor Johns and Jaylen Bland, who all came up with 11 points. Alex Larsson also had nine points.

CSULB dominated the first half. They had an 11-point lead, out-rebounded the Highlanders 18-9 and forced 9 turnovers. The score at the end of the first half was 35-26 Long Beach.

In the second half, the Highlanders did what was necessary to win and scored 13 of the first 18 points, which brought it to a one-point game after a three-pointer from Gruninger. The score at this point was 40-39 with 13:15 remaining in the game.

After exchanging a few jabs, both teams were tied at 44 apiece with 10:07 remaining. Then Alex Larson of UCR made a fast break layup, taking the lead and making the future look bright for the Highlanders. Jaylen Bland then made a jumper and a pair of free throws shortly after, bringing the game to 50-47.

With 6:58 remaining, Jack Williams of CSULB scored a three, which gave the 49ers a two-point lead, 52-50. UCR would grab a tie once more, but wouldn’t be able to break it, despite a clutch three-pointer from Bland with 47 ticks on the clock.

UCR did well in the field, shooting 52.4 percent, but making just six of 14 free throws, which may have cost them the game.

The Highlanders are the sixth seed in the Big West playoffs and will face off against the third-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters at the Honda Center on March 12. The pair of teams squared off in the same round last season with the Anteaters winning.

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