The Bears can finally breathe.
After dropping nine straight games, most of which were decided in blowout fashion, the Cal men’s basketball team finally reunited with the win column in the form of a 74-70 victory against Oregon State.
The win is Cal’s first since Dec. 30, when the team rallied back from 17 down against rival Stanford to open up Pac-12 play.
“To say we needed that one is an understatement,” said head coach Wyking Jones. “We really needed that one and I’m really happy for all of our guys.”
Cal’s offense was uncharacteristically diverse as four players hit double figures in points scored.
Senior Kingsley Okoroh had a career game as he recorded his first career double-double, putting up 14 points and 12 rebounds along with five ferocious blocks in the win.
Okoroh isn’t known for his free throw shooting by any stretch of the imagination, but almost all of the big man’s points came from the line as he knocked down 12 of 14 from the charity stripe.
“Coach yesterday made us shoot free throws for 30 minutes straight,” Okoroh said. “We just all sat around and shot free throws in silence, and it paid off today.”
Fellow senior big man Marcus Lee shook off an ugly 5-point performance against Oregon, recording 14 points along with seven rebounds with a couple of electric slams mixed in.
With 11 points, freshman Justice Sueing hit the double-digit mark in scoring for the 11th straight game.
On the verge of their losing streak extending to 10, a “feat” which has only been accomplished by the 1961-62 team, the Bears came out with a level of energy that they haven’t hit all season.
Whether it was senior Nick Hamilton drawing a charge, senior Kingsley Okoroh hustling to deflect a pass out-of-bounds or junior Don Coleman hitting the deck to grab a loose ball, the Bears came roaring out of the gate with plenty of juice.
The epitome of Cal’s effort in the first half of play was when senior Marcus Lee collected a long rebound, went coast-to-coast and slammed it down plus the foul, sending Haas into a frenzy.
In the early minutes, however, the Cal faithful were plenty quiet as freshman Justice Sueing picked up a second foul six minutes into play, forcing him to sit for most of the second half.
With Cal’s most consistent scorer relegated to the bench, Lee stepped up in Sueing’s place and propelled the offense, scoring 10 while inhaling six rebounds by the break.
Fellow freshmen Juhwan Harris-Dyson and Darius McNeill were key cogs in the offense as well, scoring a combined 11 points in the first half.
Despite the Bears’ hot start in the first half, they allowed the Beavers to slowly creep back into the game and even allowed them to take the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining. Cal shooting 34.6 percent from the field in the latter half certainly didn’t quell Oregon State’s fire.
The Bears may have shot poorly from the field in the latter 20 minutes, but they made up for it by getting to the free throw line at will and knocking down the freebies.
Cal would knock down 17 of its 21 free throw attempts in the second half with Okoroh draining all eight of his opportunities.
After being limited because of foul trouble in the first half, Sueing recorded 9 points and hit a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the game. McNeill had an excellent second half of basketball as well, dropping in 12 points on a tidy 4 of 7 shooting from the field.
“The past few games, I’ve just been in a slump,” McNeill said. “Coach says that it is normal for a freshman to go through something like that. My coaches and teammates kept trusting me, telling me to keep shooting and let it fly, and tonight it finally fell in.”