The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

Golden Eagles Make History

Men’s basketball takes CCAA title, moves on to NCAA Championships

Cal State LA’s men’s basketball team has made program history; for the first time ever they won the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) tournament finals following back-to-back-to-back games between March 7 through 9. 

Ending the tournament with a 24-7 overall record, the men’s basketball team automatically qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, set to start March 15. The wins extended what was already a single-season record in wins. They also entered the tournament with a three-game win streak that helped kickstart their momentum according to forward Corey Cofield. 

“It gave us confidence,” Cofield said. “A win streak can give any team confidence, but with us, it definitely helped get the ball rolling.”

The Golden Eagles just missed out on a first-round bye for the tournament. They ended as the third seed, so they had to play the sixth-seeded San Francisco State to open up the tournament.

The two split their season series, but Cal State LA entered with the upper hand as they were seeded higher and entered the tournament with a three-game win streak that gave them momentum, as opposed to San Francisco State having lost their final game of the regular season. 

Cal State LA had control over San Francisco State the entire time. Their defense was prominent as they got 23 defensive rebounds, 14 steals, and five blocks. They took advantage of that as they made 30 points off turnovers. Overall, the Golden Eagles shot 50% from the field and 87.5% from the line. The Gators only shot 37.1% from the field while sinking three of 24 from beyond the arc. Forward Eche Okeke, who used to play for the Gators, spoke about his nerves heading into the game.

“At this point it’s win or go home for all the teams,” Okeke said. “So everybody has that desperation in them to win the game so that was nervous coming into the game but as the game was being played, I felt those nerves went away and allowed us to be free and play.”

The win over San Francisco State set them up for another dance with Dominguez Hills the next day. The Golden Eagles did well against the Toros over the season as they beat them both times, including the last match of the season where Cal State LA bumped them down to the second seed. Cal State Dominguez Hills had the advantage of a first-round bye while Cal State LA was set to play back-to-back games. Okeke mentioned going into the game confident since they beat them this season.

“I definitely don’t think we were really that nervous at all,” Okeke said. “Obviously just nervous because it is a playoff game but other than that we knew we could beat them and we’ve had the number all year.”

Both teams were going back and forth with the lead for a good chunk of the first half. The Golden Eagles went on a 9-0 near the end of the half that helped them gain a substantial lead. They ended the half up 41-32. 

They continued their dominance in the second half, at some point going up by 14, but the Toros were determined not to go down quietly. The Toros were able to come all the way back in the final three minutes and got their first lead in the second half. Both teams once again traded the lead back and forth until ultimately the Golden Eagles were able to secure a narrow 75-73 victory. Guard Shane Bell wasn’t worried throughout the final minutes. 

“Basketball is a game of runs,” said Bell. “We went on a big run, they came back. We just stayed poised, stayed composed and we were able to close out the win.”

The Toros actually had a better field goal percentage than the Golden Eagles. They shot 50% from the field compared to the Golden Eagles 43.9%. The Golden Eagles once again took advantage of their turnovers as they scored 25 points off turnovers. 

This win already made program history as it was the first time that the men’s basketball team qualified for the CCAA tournament finals. They were set to face tournament hosts and first-seed Cal State San Bernardino on Saturday. Bell recalled the previous encounter the two had at Cal State San Bernardino. 

“They play good at home,” Bell said. “We played them earlier in the year, they beat us, but we knew what they were going to do and we just stayed true to us.”

Cal State San Bernardino was another school the Golden Eagles split their season series against. Cal State San Bernardino had the upper hand as they were playing at home and had an extra day to rest compared to the Golden Eagles who were set to play their third game in three days. That didn’t stop the Golden Eagles from being their dominant selves. 

The Coyotes were actually the ones who got out to the early lead. They maintained it for most of the half, but they were never able to build a large lead. That helped the Golden Eagles stay in the game, and a late 6-0 put them up 32-31 to close out the first half. 

Their momentum carried them into the second half, and they were able to build a lead large enough that the Coyotes weren’t able to come back from. The Golden Eagles won 73-62, sealing their fate as champions. Okeke, who averaged 18.3 points, 2.7 steals and 4.3 rebounds in the tournament, won the tournament’s most valuable player. Okeke was happy he won it, but happier with the championship win.

“Individual awards are cool, but winning as a team, that’s a lot harder to do than getting an individual award, and I wouldn’t have done that without my teammates,” Okeke said. 

Cofield mentioned how well Cal State LA fans traveled for the game. 

“It was fun,” Cofield said. “It helped us that a lot of people showed up to support us so it kind of felt like a home game with all the support we had.”

Bell felt a sense of relief winning the conference final. 

“It’s just amazing,” said Bell. “Especially for me, being here since I was a freshman, we struggled in the past and we’ve really gotten out of the mud.”

Cal State LA is hosting the men’s NCAA West Regional tournament. They will kick off the tournament by facing off against the eighth-seeded Azusa Pacific on Friday at 5 p.m. Cofield mentioned how the team will play for the NCAA.

“Be us,” said Cofield. “Coach has been preaching all year us is enough. We don’t want to do too much. Don’t go for home run plays. Just try to get one possession at a time.”

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Sasha Funes, Sports Editor

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