CSUSM men’s basketball falls to CSULA in conference matchup

Amy Chastain, Sports Editor


CSUSM men’s basketball fell to Cal State LA in conference play on Feb. 6 at MiraCosta College.

At tip off, the Cougars ranked fourth in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) with a 9-4 conference record.

Despite the prowess the Cougars have been able to exhibit in the CCAA, they fell to the 11th ranked Toros 55-59.

“We didn’t make the plays that we needed to win and we lost our concentration,” Head Coach Jim Saia said.

Senior Akachi Okugo acted as the main offensive weapon in the first half; he effortlessly sunk 4 three-pointers in 5 straight possessions.

Okugo’s first basket during this stretch set off a seven possession scoring streak for the Cougars and they controlled the game, up 23-12.

The Toros, unable to keep pace, only scored in back-to-back possessions twice in the first half.

With two players already out with injuries prior to the game and 12 minutes remaining in the half, guard Nik Brown joined the bench after charging forward and colliding with a defender who stripped Brown of the ball.

While play went the opposite direction, Brown remained face down on the hardwood with an apparent head injury. Sports medicine staff helped him to the bench, visibly shaken.

Melissa Guney, Assistant Athletic Trainer, could not comment on the nature of Brown’s injury.

After the injury timeout, scoring on both sides slowed down considerably. Only five buckets were made by either team in 26 straight possessions.

Despite a slow paced offense, the Cougars led the Toros 36-25 at the half with Okugo readily in command. The senior scored on 9 of his 14 attempts in the first half.

“[Okugo] was great. He’s playing like a senior in his last days,” Saia said.

The second half opened with two fast-paced drives from the Cougar’s Declan Daly and Darnell Taylor.

After the fast start, the Cougars’ offense struggled. They only scored on 21 percent of their attempts in the second half.

In a nine minute stretch that wound the clock down to just six minutes remaining, the Cougars only scored one time to the Toros’ seven.

The Cougars’ offense looked lost amidst the Toros’ scoring plays that slowly ate away at what had peaked at a 15-point lead.

A three-pointer from the Toros’ Brandon Hitchman and scores from Duce Zaid and Joshua Hopkins brought the gap to two points with just under eight minutes remaining.

As would be the story of the second half,  Zaid stepped up to the free throw line, tying up the game 57-57 as a result of a foul on Okugo.

Zaid’s appearance at the free throw line proved monumental for the Toros’ as the clock ran down. Zaid sunk 10 of 10 free throws in the last six minutes of the game.

The Toros, aided by Zaid’s accuracy, clung to the lead. Capitalized off of diminished shooting accuracy and last-minute fouls, they were able to drop the Cougars to 9-5 in the CCAA.

As for the Cougars’ roster, there were eight healthy players at the close of this game. The upcoming road trip to San Francisco State on Feb. 11 could prove challenging.