One of two things could have happened as the men’s basketball team began the second half of its PacWest schedule Saturday night.
The team has experienced six close conference losses, games that were lost by a combined total of just 24 points. And tied up at 63 in the final mintutes of the game, it could have let a close loss happen again.
Or, it could defeat #18 Dixie State and turn the corner as a squad before getting a second chance at all of the conference teams it has lost to by such narrow margins.
Senior AJ Ussery proved the team is ready for a second chance when he laid the ball in the hoop with 0.3 seconds left on the clock to win the game.
“We’ve had a couple losses that stung a little bit but we’ve learned from them and gained a lot of experience as a team,” Ussery said. “It’s been really helpful the way it’s played out to help us for the rest of the season.”
So losing by so few points does have an up side. The young team gets losses out of its system early and it learns it can hang with the best in the league.
“We were able to compete with everybody in the league, but we have to learn to finish,” said head coach Bill Carr. “We have to find that answer and find it here going down the stretch.”
With a few transfers and three players returning from redshirting last season, now at the halfway point, the players have started to understand and better play their roles on the team, according to Carr. For example, the team is the league’s best scoring defense, allowing just 68.5 points per game. They also have the best field goal percentage in the league at 50 percent.
“We have a young team but we’re starting to get a lot more experience and a lot of the guys are starting to step up,” Ussery said. “We’re starting to coincide a lot better and the next couple games we have coming up are against teams that we’ve lost to by two or three points and I think we’ve learned our lesson and we’re going to come out on top.”
On top of the momentum from Saturday night’s upset over Dixie State, the team has another advantage as it faces the back half of its PacWest schedule: six out of the eight games are home games.
“Playing at home is what you want,” Carr said. “We’ve had great crowds this year. The students have been awesome and I can’t thank them enough for their excitement and their passion in the stands. I hope it continues because it’s fun to play in front of that.”