Corey Hawkins, Avery Johnson, Josh Ritchart and Tyler Les are fifth-year seniors for the UC Davis men’s basketball program.
That’s rare for college basketball these days, and that experience and savvy can’t be replicated, says Aggies coach Jim Les.
His point was driven home in a big way in a nonconference game Wednesday night against San Jose State in front of an engaged announced crowd of 1,965 at the Pavilion.
With all four seniors playing key roles, the Aggies defeated the Spartans 70-56 to improve their record to 6-0, the best start for a UCD men’s basketball team in 102 years.
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In a testament to the season the rejuvenated Aggies are enjoying – they won just nine games last season – it was their first win over San Jose State (1-7) in 39 years. Last season, the Spartans beat the Aggies 89-85 in triple overtime in San Jose.
UCD will bid for the first 7-0 start in the program’s history Saturday at Idaho.
The 6-foot-9 Ritchart finished with a team-high 21 points and eight rebounds. Hawkins added 20 points and made 4 of 5 three-point attempts. Johnson had five points, seven rebounds and four assists. Tyler Les, coming off the bench, had a critical second-half three-pointer and two key assists.
“Coach appointed us the four captains for a reason,” Hawkins said. “We have experience losing, and now we have that experience winning. So who better to lead our team than us? We take it upon ourselves to set the bar high.”
The foursome had their fingerprints all over the game’s pivotal stretch in the first half when San Jose State, which never led, climbed to within 15-14 with 8:36 to go on two free throws by Rashad Muhammad, the Spartans’ leading scorer with 20 points.
Ritchart converted a three-point play, then made a baseline three-pointer from an assist by Johnson, the team’s defensive specialist, after he hustled and grabbed an offensive rebound under the boards.
Johnson hit a three from an assist by Tyler Les, Hawkins added another three and Josh Fox two free throws as the Aggies went on a 14-3 run to go ahead 29-17 with 2:53 remaining. San Jose State would never get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“The beauty of having those guys is they have logged a lot of minutes, and they have a lot of experience,” Jim Les said. “We talk about teams making runs and dealing with the adversity of that and getting us out of whatever rut were in.”
Ritchart was a senior last season and played in nine games before a stress fracture in his leg ended his season. He received a second chance with a medical redshirt.
“We know this is our last year,” Ritchart said. “I think it’s important we have that experience. We want to make sure that we’re able to lead our team and to be a good example that, even when times are down, we stick to what we do and eventually it will pay off.”
The last time UCD started 6-0, the school was called University Farm and played against area high school and club teams. That 1912 team finished 7-1, seeing its six-game winning streak end 38-36 to Sacramento High.
“This group is building a unique culture,” Jim Les said. “Every day they’re coming with a great workmanlike mentality. Their chemistry, the fact that they care for each other, has really been extraordinary.”