The locker room is the safe haven in which teams can decompress from the madness that derives from the physical and mental battle on the hardwood. But comfort is the enemy of progress, and Tuesday night, Haas Pavilion was nearly the backdrop for a case study in the art of complacency.
Cal men’s basketball kicked off the four-game Legends Classic with an 80-66 victory over Hampton, but the team’s home opener was not without some drama.
The Pirates staged a late-game comeback, cutting the Bears’ 17-point halftime lead to a mere 5 points, but the Bears flashed just enough bravado to hang on.
Five Cal players hit double figures, something the Bears only accomplished twice last season.
Redshirt junior Paris Austin had another impressive day at the office, totaling 20 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Freshman Andre Kelly had a well-rounded night in his own right, chipping in 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Both players each had two blocks and a steal as well.
“I was happy to see we were able to fight through Hampton’s run, get it together and make some offensive and defensive plays. We played great as a team tonight,” said head coach Wyking Jones.
What had the makings of a blowout win quickly devolved into an edge-of-your-seat affair. Cal was lights-out to begin the game, rattling off a 16-3 run beginning at the 11-minute mark and shooting 55.2 percent from the field as a unit in the first half.
But led by junior Jermaine Marrow, who couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half, Hampton found its rhythm and began chipping away at Cal’s lead in the second half.
The Pirates’ dynamic guard utilized both his quickness and craftiness to attack the rim with reckless abandon. Marrow hit some tough, contested layups to fuel Hampton’s fast-paced offense with some much-needed juice. Of Marrow’s 26 total points, 16 came in the second half.
When Hampton senior Akim Mitchell hit a layup with about 13 minutes remaining in the second half to cut Cal’s lead to 5, all signs pointed to the Pirates completing the comeback and shocking the Bears.
A rookie and a vet came to Cal’s rescue, as Austin and Kelly each scored 10 points in the latter half to bring some energy to an otherwise lethargic offense.
The Bears went to the freshman when the game was within reach, and he paid his team back in full with some big buckets.
“He showed some great footwork,” Jones said. “He didn’t look like a freshman tonight. He really showed some poise down in the post by taking his time, not rushing and getting the quality shot. Andre was really good for us tonight.”
Cal managed to alleviate many of the ills that sunk it in its loss to Yale in the Pac-12 China Game.
The 3-point shot was a legitimate threat thanks in part to freshman Matt Bradley and sophomore Darius McNeill, and hero ball was exchanged for a more cohesive offense.
“In China, we weren’t playing our team ball,” sophomore Justice Sueing said. “It was a big emphasis tonight for us to share it and get it moving.
Cal won’t have time to bask in the glory of the win, as it will face Detroit Mercy on Thursday in the second game of the Legends Classic.
The Titans will enter that matchup winless in three games, two of those losses coming in their leg of the Legends Classic.
Detroit Mercy is led by freshman Antoine Davis, an explosive guard who has been balling out since he put on the Titans’ red, white and blue.
Through three games, Davis has been lighting up the stat sheet with his scoring, averaging 27.3 points per game while hitting 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
Should Cal win its matchup against Detroit Mercy, it will be the first time it has held a winning record in exactly a year.