No. 14 Wildcats stay alive in CCAA title race after exhilarating comeback

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Javier Hernandez

Wildcat Joshua Hamilton on 2/12/22 against SFSU.

The Chico State Men’s Basketball team remained in the middle of the California Collegiate Athletic Association title hunt after a double-digit comeback in the second half. 

The Wildcats had the game before this one canceled due to COVID protocols.

The Wildcats never led in regular time, but would end up sweeping their season series against the Gators. 

The Wildcats struggled to find their offense in the first half. The Gators held the biggest lead of the game at 35-24.This 11 point deficit was the biggest advantage the opponents had over the Wildcats. 

Heading into half, the Wildcats dealt with a 30-37 disadvantage. Nothing was coming easy for the Wildcats offensively.

Coach Clink said the offense was very stagnant and attacking the basketball helped them get into rhythm.

“We started to attack the paint,” Clink said. “The small-ball line up with Malik at the 5, is what helped break their defense down.”

Junior forward Kaleb Carter said he felt their defense keep them alive despite poor shooting efforts in the first half.

“Everytime I am in the game, I attempt to impact the game on the defensive end,” Carter said. “Coach Clink always tells us how our defense is what is going to win us games.”

During the second half the Wildcats tried to cut the lead, but the Gators always answered the call back. 

The Wildcats found themselves down 38-48 at the 14 minute mark in the second half. However, they managed  to chip away at the deficit.

Junior guard Colby Orr said staying together is what sparked their comeback.

“We started to play with a sense of urgency,” Orr said. “We have been fighting through adversity and we won’t allow it to break us.” 

Junior guard Joshua Hamilton sank a free throw to cut the Gators lead to 68-71 with two minutes remaining in the second half.

With just a minute left to go, Orr made a tough shot to inch the Wildcats closer at 70-71.

The Gators split their free throws, which presented the opportunity for the Wildcats to tie the game.

After senior guard Isaiah Brooks got trapped by Gator defenders, he made a pass to Hamilton.

Hamilton caught the ball with about eight seconds remaining and hit a game-tying jumper, and then Acker Gym went hysterical.

Hamilton said he’s always ready for big game moments, like his game-tying jumper.

“I’m the type of person that if I am going to die in a car crash, I want to be the driver,” Hamilton said. 

In overtime, Brooks would hit a layup to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 40 minutes and 30 seconds into the game.

Brooks finished the night with four assists, which propelled him into fifth place for most assists in program history.

The Wildcats found themselves down by two points with less than two minutes remaining in overtime. 

Orr hit back-to-back layups and gave the Wildcats the lead, which was enough for them to close the game out.

Orr said his teammates and coaches’ confidence prepared him to take big shots.

“They have trust in me to make plays,” Orr said. “That means the world to me and I’ll keep trying to make them proud.”

Clink said Orr has earned his trust due to his stellar performance over the past few weeks.

“I have complete trust in him,” Clink said. “When the ball is in his hand, good things happen more often than not.”

The Wildcats defeated the Gators 82-79 and improved to 15-3 on the season and 11-3 in CCAA play. 

Chico State Men’s Basketball raised into second place of the CCAA standings, with four games remaining in the regular season. 

Hamilton said the grit and grind of this team is what showed today.

“We just all want to win,“ Hamilton said. “Everybody is focused on winning and will do whatever it takes to help us.”

The final road trip of the season is coming up for the Wildcats. They travel south to play against theCal State LA Golden Eagles on Feb. 17 and finish their road trip in San Marcos playing the Cougars on Feb. 19.
Javier Hernandez can be reached at [email protected]l.com or @jhm1226 on Twitter.