The Gators men’s basketball team edged past the UC Dominican Penguins 92-88 at the PAC West/CCAA Challenge tournament, improving their undefeated record of 2-0.
While the Gators did at one point lead by 12, the win didn’t come easy.
Evan Zeller opened up the game with a 3-point bomb, inciting confidence in the rest of their offense; However, they could not produce. The team shot a measly 36.4 percent from the field in the first half. At the half whistle, the Gators were down by 6.
Then, the defense kicked in.
SF State began to play full court defense, causing turnovers and some quick easy baskets while stealing the confidence from The Penguins.
“We started the second half with a much better energy,” said interim head coach Vince Inglima after the game. “The big change for us was that we got more aggressive at the point of attack — we dictated on the defensive end and that really changed the momentum. We have some tremendous on-the-ball defenders.”
While it may not show on the stat sheet, junior guard Chiefy Ugbaja was one of those great on-the-ball defenders. His presence on defense shakes up the confidence in the opposition, causing them to rethink passes or throw bad ones.
Ugbaja had two steals, dropped 21 points in the game and had a team high of 7 rebounds.
“Playing against people who could handle the ball really well and shoot the ball well turned me into a good defender coming here,” Ugbaja said.
“Chiefy was just a monster everywhere,” said Inglima. “On the glass, on the ball defensively — when he is on, he is just a nightmare for opponents.
This type of aggressive defense was the shift of the currents as the Gators went on to dominate the rest of the game.
In the eighth minute of the second half, Zeller stole the ball at half-court and grazed the rim for two points and a foul. Knowing that he is fresh off injuring both his feet, the bench jumped up holding each other back from going crazy.
Zeller finished with a team high of 26 points including 4 threes.
“It’s more of a team effort than my performance overall,” Zeller said.
Former gator defender Ajay Kahlon was in attendance at the game and was impressed by the intensity the new squad brought to the table.
“It’s a good start for them,” Kahlon said. “They could just flat out score, they could work a little bit on defense, but 1 through 5, everybody that gets on the floor can score.”
Graduate student Zeller, was named PAC West/CCAA Challenge tournament MVP after posting 40 points in two games. Chiefy Ugbaja was also named to the All-Tournament Team.
The Gators head to Long Beach on Nov. 14 to take on the CSULB 49er’s in an interconference matchup.