It definitely wasn’t the outcome the Mustangs (7-21, 3-13 Big West Conference) wanted for their final game of the season and senior day.
With less than 17 minutes to go in the second half, senior Chaz Thomas was ejected after a scuffle with UC Riverside’s Javon Borum. Then as the game neared its end, senior center Titus Shelton fouled out but not without receiving a standing ovation from the 1376 in attendance who witnessed the Highlanders (16-13, 8-8) defeat the Mustangs 76-69 at Mott Gym.
“(It’s a) tough way to go out when you’re a senior,” head coach Kevin Bromley said about Thomas’ ejection of the game. “He was having a descent floor game, made some shots for us then (got ejected). I’m not sure the referees got that one right. There was a call on the fight but not on the foul that started the whole thing. He was just protecting a teammate. It was an emotional game,” Bromley added.
An emotional game in which the future of the program showed its prowess.
The Mustangs’ point leader in the game was not a senior but sophomore forward Shawn Lewis who racked up 23 points to wrap up his season while junior guards Lorenzo Keeler and Justin Brown added a combined 25 points.
Justin Brown had his rallying performance in the second half, having three steals within a game minute, two of which resulted in good layups.
“I think we came out strong as ever knowing we have no chance of making the conference tournament. We showed great resilience. John crashed the board, and Titus played as physical as ever. (What Thomas did) we loved it, he just backing up a teammate and that hyped me up a little bit,” Lewis said.
But the seniors made in impact right from the start.
Thomas put up the first points on the board with a three-pointer, and later with seconds to go in the half Thomas attempted a layup with no avail but his fellow senior John Manley was there to tip in the rebound to put the mustangs up by two.
The second half belonged to the Highlanders who lead up to the finish.
Rudy Meo and Konner Veteto led the Highlanders with 13 points each.
Senior center Titus Shelton said he wasn’t happy with his final performance but said that he saw in this game what he saw throughout the whole season; a team that is ready and prepped for next year.
Before the game there was ceremony for the three seniors who will be departing the team.
Forward John Manley is working on his master’s in public policy and aims to get a job in the business sector while his fellow seniors Shelton and Thomas said they will pursue a professional basketball career overseas.
With the seniors leaving, Brown said he is concerned the team will lose maturity and leadership but that “There are a lot of leaders in this team and they will step up. We’re also losing a lot of size in Titus and John but we should be good next year,” Brown said.
After the game an emotional Thomas choked up during the interview.
“It’s over,” he said. “You don’t realize it ’til it’s over.”