Despite an off shooting night, the SF State men’s basketball team improved to 2-0 on the season by showcasing their defense, en route to a 66-55 victory against the Dominican University of California Penguins on Saturday, Nov. 10 at The Swamp for the SF State Tipoff Classic.
The Gators were led by senior center Ryne Williams, who provided 16 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and three steals in the victory. He shot 5-of-13 (38.4 percent) from the field, including 3-of-8 (37.5 percent) from behind the arc, distinguishing himself as All-Tournament MVP.
“It’s always good to be recognized personally, but I was definitely more focused on our play as a team. We dug down and got some big stops towards the end of the game,” Williams said. “It was also good to see some players contribute off the bench in a big way. It was an overall great team effort and a great way to start the season.”
The five blocks were a new career-high for Williams, whose previous career-high was three. Williams also set career-highs in points (16) and rebounds (9) as well.
It was the first time since Nov. 26, 2016 at Notre Dame de Namur (W 61-50) that a Gator recorded five or more blocks, with center AJ Kahlon swatting away five himself.
Getting Williams engaged defensively has been an ongoing contest, according to his coach.
“Ryne has always been a talented offensive player,” said head coach Vince Inglima. “Finding a way for him to be sufficient defensively and actually turning himself into a net-gain on the defensive end will only help us get better.”
Despite being primarily known as an offensive player, Williams has a different outlook on the defensive end of the ball.
“I love playing offense, as does anyone, but I’ve been working on becoming passionate about rebounding and defending at a high level,” he said. “To start, I’m not that good of a defender. I’m slow-footed, so it’s key for me to use my length to affect people’s shots and make a difference.”
The Gators were able to keep the Penguins to under 33 percent shooting from the field and under 27 percent from the three-point line.
“Today, the offense wasn’t working but because we defended at such a high level, we were able to make up for that and still come up with a win,” Inglima said.
SF State started the game off with a pull-up jumper from graduate student guard Jiday Ugbaja off the left wing. On the next possession for Dominican, Ryne Williams stripped the ball from guard Jordan Williams and hit Jiday Ugbaja for the layup in transition.
A few possessions later, junior forward Jase Wickliffe hit a three in rhythm on the fastbreak, extending the Gator lead to 7-2.
Senior guard/forward Chiefy Ugbaja would go on to have an incredible sequence where he took two defenders off the dribble, finishing for an acrobatic layup. He would then turn the ball over on the next Gator possession, only to block Dominican’s Ezra Talbert’s layup attempt.
Turnovers became an issue for the Gators throughout the night, as they picked up seven turnovers in the first 4:13 of action.
In the first half alone, the team turned the ball over 12 times, which was one off of their total from the previous game against Academy of Art University.
The teams would go on to trade buckets throughout the final 10 minutes of the first half, with Dominican pulling ahead by as many as five points, thanks to an 8-0 run.
The Gators would call timeout and respond with an 8-0 run of their own over a 1:54 spurt, with three baskets assisted by guard Niquis Garland.
“He’s an integral part of what we do,” Inglima said of Garland. “He’s a floor general type of kid. He’s our spark plug when he gets in the game; things will happen.”
At the break, SF State led Dominican 29-28 despite out-rebounding and out-shooting their opponents.
The second half started with yet another run, this time a 7-0 run after a jumper by Ryne Williams, a layup for sophomore guard Michael Diaz and another pull-up mid-range jumper from Jiday Ugbaja. The Gators would lead 35-28.
Dominican would go on an 11-0 run of their own, eventually taking a 40-37 lead with 13:17 left in the second half.
However, from that point on, the Gator defense locked in and grinded out their second win of the season.
Jordan Balser and Jase Wickliffe would secure the victory for the Gators, as their timely buckets would hold off any chance of a Penguin comeback.
Three Gator players were named to the All-Tournament team: Ryne Williams, Jase Wickliffe and Jordan Balser.
Cedric Thomas of Dominican and Issac Davidson from Sonoma State would round out the tournament team.
The Gators will head up north to Sonoma State on Nov. 16 and 17 for the Ron Logsdon Basketball Classic against Notre Dame de Namur and Concordia (Calif.).