The Gators men’s basketball team won their third-straight game on Saturday, Feb. 9 against the Sonoma State Seawolves 70-68.
Graduate guard Jordan Balser led the way with a 31-point performance, a new career-high, and the Gators now own the season series against the Seawolves.
Balser came out firing and scored the first 10 points for the Gators as they jumped to an early lead, but Sonoma’s Jordan Hickman kept the Seawolves in the game by adding 19 points off the bench.
The Seawolves turned up the defense in the last two minutes of the half, preventing the Gators from scoring. The Seawolves closed the half strong and finished on a 5-0 run.
Balser scored 22 of the Gators 35 points in the first half, yet they trailed by two heading into the second half.
The Gators came out of the locker room lacking energy and coach Vince Inglima needed a spark off the bench.
Senior guard/forward Chiefy Ugbaja answered the call and changed the momentum of the game with his aggressive play.
“We got really stagnant and really flat,” said Inglima. “Chiefy’s such a dynamic athlete and he’s an energy giver that plays with such intensity. He really changed the dynamic of the game in the second half.”
Ugbaja’s energy started an 11-0 run that included a big time three from senior Ryne Williams and gave the Gators an eight-point lead.
After starting the first half on fire, Balser did not make a shot in the second half until the 12-minute mark, which was all he needed to get started.
“It came down to JB tonight he was on his stuff and that 31-point performance saved us. This was a big win for us. We’re going on three-straight [wins] right now,” Williams said.
Down the stretch Balser and Hickman were battling, but it was Balser who had the last say. With the game tied 68-68, Balser scored the game-winning shot with six seconds left on the clock.
The Gators shot a combined 52 percent from the field including eight 3-pointers, four of them coming from Balser and three from Williams. Balser was the only player in double digits for the Gators, but the Gators elite team defense kept them in the game.
The Gators leading scorer, graduate guard Jiday Ugbaja, was held in check and finished with his second-lowest scoring performance of the season, managing to score only four points.
Ugbaja will get his chance to bounce back next week against the Cal State East Bay Pioneers. He dropped 20 points in their first meeting earlier in the season.
The Gators will need to improve on the bench as they were outscored 29-15. SF State’s bench was successful in their last bout against the Pioneers, outscoring them 22-17.
But even with the bench winning their battle, the Gators were downed by the Pioneers 83-76.
“They got us here earlier in the year and they don’t beat themselves. We’ve won three in a row and we’re starting to play better and we’re hitting our stride,” said Inglima.
The Gators visit the Pioneers on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. with coach Inglima seeing this matchup as an opportunity to gauge just how good his team can play with momentum.