UC Merced men's basketball rallies after uninspired first half

slynch@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 7, 2014 

John Sykes didn’t need to give much of a halftime speech.

His UC Merced men’s basketball team was already embarrassed by a first-half showing that saw them trail 16 points at intermission.

The Bobcats had gone through the motions in the first half, particularly on defense, and all Sykes asked for was a sense of urgency. Behind the post presence of sophomore Ryan Edwards, UC Merced gave him that after the break. The Bobcats opened the second half with a 14-3 run and rallied past the Gladiators for a 72-65 victory at Hostetler Court.

“There was no fire out there,” Sykes said. “We’re a couple days away from opening up conference play and we needed to have a sense of urgency.

“What we did in the second half is what I know we’re capable of doing every game. Now we need to build on this second half and get ready for a couple road games to start league.”

It was the first time this season UC Merced (2-14) has held a team under 70 points, but that certainly didn’t look like it would be the case in the first half.

The Bobcats led 11-8 five minutes in, but Pacifica (3-17) answered with an 18-3 run. Behind Jonathan Earl (team-high 20 points) and Alex Mendiola (18), the Gladiators got to the basket at will and hit four uncontested 3s as they shot 51 percent from the field in the opening half. Despite suiting just six players, Pacifica led by as much as 18 points and went into intermission with a commanding 43-27 lead.

A different Merced squad took the court in the second half.

The Bobcats made Pacifica work for just about every possession defensively and attacked the basket on offense. Edwards served as the focal point of that attack, scoring 12 of his team-high 16 points in the first 10 minutes after the break. He helped spark a 14-3 run to start the second half and pull Merced within five.

Marshall Grasty’s layup with 11:15 to play brought the Bobcats all the way back and a Michael Pierick (14 points) runner gave them the lead about a minute later.

The wheels fell off for Pacifica in the last seven minutes as foul trouble caught up to its short bench. Horace Nguyen fouled out with seven minutes left and Rafeal Morelos followed five minutes later, forcing the Gladiators to finish out the game with just four players.

Griffin Alexander (seven points) scored five straight points and Pierick followed with a 3 to put the game away in the final minute.

“It’s all about energy with us and we just didn’t have any out there in the first half,” Edwards said. “I’m the biggest guy out on the court, so I should have been dominating down low all game.

“We got back to playing together when it mattered in the second half and were able to get back in it. It was ugly, but we’ll take a win.”

Staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or slynch@mercedsunstar.com.

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