The players wore warm-up T-shirts that read, “Create Yours.”
On Wednesday night, some 2,300 miles from home, UC Davis basketball created some more memories from this special season, holding off North Carolina Central 67-63 in a “First Four” play-in game to tip off Midwest Region action at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio, extending what has already been a dream season.
With his parents and five siblings watching from their native Nigeria, junior forward Chima Moneke finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and NC Central missed four 3-pointers down the stretch to allow the Aggies to advance to Friday’s game against top-seeded Kansas in Tulsa, Okla.
“I feel like I’m a confident player, and I got it going early,” Moneke told The Associated Press. “And I like the matchup that I had. And you know, my teammates were doing a great job of moving the ball, and I felt that if we continued to do that, I would put us in a successful position to score most of the time.”
UCD, in its first NCAA Tournament, now faces the ultimate “Create Yours” moment: No. 16 seeds are winless in 128 meetings against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
But, before boarding their team plane, Ag Force One, the Aggies will first cherish this victory.
Senior guard Brynton Lemar scored 15 points and senior guard Lawrence White 14 in the victory for coach Jim Les, who took over as UCD’s coach six seasons ago with visions of doing this sort of thing.
“Our guys grew up as little hoopers dreaming about playing and having this opportunity,” Les told AP. “And so it’s special to be here. And we’re just going to continue to fight, to keep this story going.”
The victory improved Les’ all-time NCAA Tournament record to 3-1. As coach at Bradley, he led the 13th-seeded Braves to the Sweet 16 in 2006.
During that 2006 run, Les led Bradley to a 77-73 first-round upset of No. 4 Kansas. When the Aggies and Jayhawks meet Friday, it will be the 11-year anniversary of that shocker.
White’s two free throws with 15.8 seconds left gave UCD a 66-63 lead, and Lemar’s free throw with four seconds to go accounted for the final score as NC Central was forced to foul to prevent the Aggies from running out the clock.
“It’s really exciting,” Moneke told media in Dayton immediately after the game, adding, “I love you guys” as he pointed to the camera, knowing family and friends in Nigeria were watching.
Dajuan Graf led NC Central with 15 points. Cole Patrick, the Eagles’ best player and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference MVP, was held to 13 points.
Moneke made his first four field goals, donning his trademark white headband and goggles. A 9-0 NC Central run late in the half helped it take a 34-31 lead. UCD had an 11-2 run early in the second half.
The Aggies had 18 turnovers, a point of emphasis after the game.
Return to sacbee.com/sports later Wednesday as Sacramento Bee sports columnist Ailene Voisin provides coverage from Dayton.