As the Titans walked off the floor following their 68-63 win over the Sacramento State Hornets, the school band played the Beatles hit “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
The ballad was fitting theme music on a second consecutive night in which the Titans were led by a stellar scoring night from one of their athletic wings, but on Friday, a few things were different.
For one, against Sacramento State, Khalil Ahmad was the red-hot hand rather than Kyle Allman, who had carried CSUF the night before. Ahmad poured in a season-high 25 points to lead the Titans to victory, all while getting a little help from his friends.
“It was mostly my teammates trying to find me,” Ahmad said. “My teammates were setting me up with good screens, ball movement and driving and kicking.”
Just like their loss to Georgia in their Wooden Legacy Tournament opener, the Titans were in a tight game early against Sacramento State.
But where the Titans were carried all night by Allman’s career-high 34 points against the Bulldogs, a team effort kept them in the contest against Sacramento State throughout the first half. After posting just 8 assists all game against the Bulldogs, the Titans had already racked up that many by halftime against the Hornets before finishing with 15.
The second half was a different story, as it was Ahmad’s turn to take over the scoring for the Titans. Ahmad exploded for 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the game’s second frame and ultimately scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half.
“I was a little more aggressive but I got a little bit more open shots and once I got the ones going in, it started flowing a little bit more,” Ahmad said.
Austen Awosika stuffed the box score with a season-high 5 assists to go with 6 points and 5 rebounds. Allman chipped in with a more balanced effort than the previous night, finishing with a still-efficient 13 points on 6 shots.
“I thought we just played harder. The first half I just thought we were tentative. I thought we were too cool,” said Titans Head Coach Dedrique Taylor. “Finally we got a group on the floor that bought into playing hard and bought into competing and playing for each other.”
The Titans never made a decisive run to put the game away, but were able to make enough shots down the stretch to survive their continuing turnover woes (coughing up 16 in the game) while forcing enough just enough missed shots from Sacramento State, who went 7-22 from downtown.
Additionally, Ahmad also came through when it mattered most, knocking down two free throws with 18 seconds remaining to give the Titans a 68-63 lead that would serve as the final score when the Hornets didn’t have another answer.
Taylor said he liked to see the more balanced effort from the team, but he also didn’t care how they played going into the rest of their season and their final game of the Wooden Legacy Tournament against Harvard Sunday at 6:30 if they kept getting the same result.
“With our personnel, I think we’re capable of being balanced, but I think we’re also capable of one guy getting into a rhythm like Kyle did last night or Khalil did tonight,” Taylor said. “Whichever one leads to a win, I’d love it.”