The Cal State San Bernardino men’s basketball team escaped – again.
The Coyotes slipped past longtime nemesis UC San Diego 76-72 in a CCAA Tournament semifinal Friday night to earn a spot in tonight’s 7:30 p.m. title game against unheralded Cal State Monterey Bay (16-13).
The Coyotes (19-9) nipped Sonoma State 79-77 in Tuesday’s
quarterfinal and coach Jeff Oliver is pleased to see his team start knocking down some shots at crunch time, something it had trouble with earlier in the season.
“We’re making the most of our opportunities and taking advantage of some mismatches,” Oliver said. “I think it’s a matter of our guys better understanding their roles and feeling more comfortable in the offense. It’s good to see.”
The Coyotes led by as many as 11 in the second half, that lead coming at 62-51 with 8:45 left. But the Tritons (17-11) came back as they always do. San Diego evened the game at 67 on a baseline drive by Shane Poppen, who surged past defender Brandon Brown, playing it safe after being called for his fourth foul.
The game was tied again at 70 with 1:40 to play. The Coyotes got a fadeaway jumper from Tim Denson to go up 72-70 with 1:13 left. The Tritons failed to answer as Kelvin Kim missed an open look from the top of the key, his favorite shot.
Cal State’s Devin Montgomery scrambled for the rebound with 45 seconds left and sank a pair of free throw to up the lead to four, 74-70.
Montgomery was at the line twice more and delivered two with 18.2 seconds left and one of two later to seal the outcome.
“I was just trying to relax and make them,” Montgomery said. “I
was in that position before and didn’t come through. I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I was thinking about it. I didn’t want to fail in that position again.”
The Coyotes, ranked seventh in the West Region, shot 57.4 percent (27-for-47) from the field with Brown’s 22 leading the way. Montgomery and Denson contributed 15 and 13 respectively. DuBois Williams had a steady game with eight points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
San Diego came in needing to win the tournament to advance to the West Region Tournament, something it did last year. The Tritons got 24 from Jordan Lawley and 16 each from Alan Husted Poppen.
The Coyotes entered the tournament seeded third despite claiming a share of the regular season title for the eighth time in 10 years. Monterey Bay was the seventh seed but it upended No. 2 Cal State Dominguez Hills on Tuesday, then followed with an ugly-but-effective win over the top-seeded Broncos.
Cal State swept both regular season meetings against the Otters.
“That’s going to be another tough one,” Oliver said. “They play
hard and don’t quit and they have the momentum right now.”