While The Swamp is always packed on game nights, the crowd was a little bit different on Saturday, Feb 24. Instead of being filled with SF State students, the majority of the crowd was made up of friends and family members of the four men’s basketball seniors.
Before the game started, the seniors were escorted onto the court by their families. Guards Warren Jackson and Evan Zeller, forward Brantley Bynum and center Jash Kahlon were all honored in front of the home crowd before the tip-off of their final regular season game as Gators.
Fueled by a little extra motivation, the Gators were able to pull out a win in a game that was tightly contested in the first half. Humboldt State University gave all they had in their season finale, even though they weren’t playing with any playoff aspirations.
Once the second half started however, the Gators came out hard, going on a 16-5 run to put the game away for good. The team played hard-nosed defense, a facet of their game that they have emphasized late in the season.
“If we are going to win the CCAA Tournament, we will have to beat three very good teams. To do that, we will need consistent energy and attention to detail on the defensive end of the court,” said head coach Vince Inglima. “A key indicator of our defensive focus and energy is how well we rebound. Over this last 14 game stretch, we are 11-0 when we out rebound our opponent, and 0-3 when we don’t.”
The Gators led by as many as 15 at one point and never trailed after halftime. Bynum and Zeller paced the team with 20 and 19 points, respectively, in a game that showed how ready the Gators are heading into the postseason.
“I believe the team’s mindset is being focused going into the conference tourney,” said assistant coach Tyler Brown. “We’ve had some ups and downs this season but recently have shown that if we are focused and engaged, we can compete with any team.”
The Gators closed out the season winning 11 of their final 14 games, giving them some momentum heading into the playoffs. The team has every right to be confident going into the postseason and the vibe around the locker room is that this team has every opportunity to go all the way and bring home a championship.
They’ll draw Cal State San Marcos in the first round, a team that they lost a tightly contested game to on Feb. 2. However, the Gators showed in that game that they could hang with the second place team, making this upcoming first round game a highly anticipated one.
“We’re really confident, we’re going to play either San Diego State or San Marcos and we’ve already beat San Diego once and we had San Marcos’ number twice,” said senior center Jash Kahlon. “I think we’ll be good to go, we’re confident all the way so we should be fine.”
The team is headed into the most important part of the season with a chip on their shoulder. After losing in the championship game last season, the team hopes to bounce back with a vengeance this year in the tournament.
“I think we understand the task that is ahead of us and we do not want to end feeling like we’ve missed an opportunity,” said Brown. “We’ve got some talented seniors who still would love to fill the void of hanging a banner.”
Kahlon reiterated that the mindset of the seniors is to give it their all in what is their last chance to bring back a title to their school.
“I can’t even explain how big it is,” said Kahlon. “Last year we got second place so for the seniors that all came back, our goal this year was do better and get that next step so it means a lot, especially knowing that this is it for a lot of us.”
The Gators began their playoff journey on Tuesday, Feb. 27.