UC Davis junior guard Brynton Lemar had made just one of eight shots from the floor through more than three quarters of the game Wednesday night against Cal State Fullerton at the Pavilion.
But as a three-year player for the Aggies and playing on the home court where UCD has been so good the past two seasons, the 6-foot-4 Lemar remained confident.
With the Aggies clinging to a one-point lead, Lemar took charge. He made three consecutive three-point shots and finished with 12 points and four rebounds to help lift the Aggies to a 69-64 win over the valiant Titans in the Big West Conference game.
UCD was leading 49-48 with 8:26 to play when Lemar hit his three beyond-the-arc bombs to put UCD up 58-48 with 7:30 to go.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, and the coach told me I was taking great shots,” said Lemar, sporting a bloody lip after another physical Big West battle. “Finally they started falling -- the law of averages. I put a lot of work in practice into hitting those kind of shots.”
UCD coach Jim Les encouraged Lemar to keep firing away, even when he was just 1 of 5 at the half.
“We told him at halftime he had taken really good shots,” said Les, the former NBA point guard. “I thought he had a number of shots go in and out. Even in the second half he had a shot in front of me that was a really good look and went in and out. Our comment was ‘keep shooting it.’
“He’s too good of a shooter not to get hot. His big three in a row was a big difference in the game.”
Along with some dominant play by senior forward Josh Fox, timely shooting by freshman Siler Schneider and some more late heroics by junior point guard Darius Graham, the Aggies (8-11, 3-3) extended their conference home court winning streak to 11 games and moved into a tie for third place with Long Beach State.
“These guys are taking pride in protecting their house and having a little swagger,” Les said. “We want to maintain that. We want teams second guessing themselves coming into this building.”
Fox led the Aggies with 19 points, seven rebounds and a slew of heady plays. Schneider added 14 points and four assists and Graham had 13 points, including five in the final 1:06 when the injury ravaged Titans (8-11, 1-5) were refusing to go away. They played just seven players and were without leading scorer Tre’ Coggins.
Freshman guard Khalil Ahmad led three Cal State Fullerton players in double figures with 27 points and played the entire 40 minutes. Junior guard Lionheart Leslie added 18 points and four steals and sophomore forward Jamar Akoh had 14 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. They accounted for all but five of the Titans’ 69 points.
Despite that, they battled the Aggies head-to-head in a game in which the lead changed four times and was tied five.
Two Akoh free throws with 1:42 to play cut UCD’s lead to 62-59.
But Graham, who is developing a reputation for making big plays late, hit two free throws, then stole the ball from Akoh and hit a layup to put the Aggies ahead 66-59 with 53 seconds to go. Graham, Lemar and Schneider each added free throws to counter five free throws by Ahmad, who was 11 of 12 from the stripe overall.
Les said a long trip back from Hawaii, where the Aggies lost 78-62 late Saturday night, was a factor in UCD’s slow start against the Titans. They trailed Cal State Fullerton 37-35 at the half.
“We didn’t get back until late Sunday night and it was a little bit of Hawaiian hangover here tonight,” Les said. “We didn’t look like ourselves especially in the first half. It looked a little bit like we were running in the sand.
“But as I told them after the game it’s important for good teams to win when you don’t play well. But we know we have to play a lot better on Saturday.”
The Aggies play host to Cal Poly at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the nightcap of a doubleheader that has the Aggie women playing UC Santa Barbara at 3:30 p.m.