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Bears Fall to Bobcats in Turnover Plagued Game, 63-60

November 16, 2023

HAAS PAVILION - The Bears’ rocky personnel situation in the young season got even messier tonight with the absence of starting point guard Devin Askew and key reserve Jalen Celestine, who led the Bears in scoring in the season opener, and the difference was noticeable on the court as Cal fell to Montana State 63-60 in Berkeley.

“It’s tough,” guard Jalen Cone said of Askew’s absence. “Devin brings a lot setting the table in terms of a point guard getting downhill who kind of opens things up for a lot of guys, so we definitely missed him tonight.”

The team already struggled through key player Jaylon Tyson’s transfer waiver denial that caused him to miss the season opener and both preseason scrimmages but just as it seemed that the team was beginning to gel with a solid 20-point win over Bakersfield Monday, both Askew and Celestine appear ready to miss the next several games with both players in a boot for tonight’s game.

“Tough game tonight for us,” head coach Mark Madsen said after the game. “To me, the game was won or lost off the points on turnovers. You obviously look at the stat sheet and see the turnover number of 16 for us and they had 19 points off our 16 turnovers. So that’s on me as a head coach. You can’t turn the ball over like that. 

“The first half, our energy was not there. That’s on me as a head coach. I’ll address it. I’ll fix it.

“The second half, we battled, we fought, we came up short. Obviously I thought not having two key guys to injury hurt us. But even with that, I felt we should’ve played a much different basketball game.”

Tyson put the Bears on his back in the loss, scoring 27 of the Bears’ 60 points along with 8 rebounds but Tyson’s 8 turnovers and the team’s 16 overall were ultimately their undoing, with the Bobcats scoring 19 points off of turnovers in their win.

Predictably, the game started off on the wrong foot for the Bears, with the Bobcats going on an 8-point run fueled by UT Arlington power forward transfer Brandon Walker, who scored 8 of Montana State’s 12 points in their opening 12-7 lead over the Bears. Walker led MSU with 26 on the night.

A Fardaws Aimaq layup and three straight buckets by Tyson momentarily stopped the early bleeding but the Bobcats were able to stretch their lead to 6, closing out the half with the final four points, leading 33-27. 

Frosh point guard Rodney Brown got his most playing time so far this season and hit his first bucket - a 3 from the baseline in the first half.

The Bears’ perimeter defense - a distinct weakness early this season - was strong in the opening stanza, limiting Montana State to just 1-for-12 from 3 but they only managed to shoot 2-for-9 for deep themselves. Perimeter shooting didn’t get better for either team in the second half with both teams shooting 17% from distance overall. They also led the smaller Bobcats in rebounding with a 17-13 margin but turnovers plagued them in the first half, with 11 turnovers leading to 13 Bobcat points. The Bears finished with a strong 39-25 rebounding advantage overall in the loss.

Walker often had his way inside backing down Aimaq and beating him with spin moves but a Walker jumper from the top of the arc and two fast-break layups gave MSU their biggest lead of the game at 14 when they went up 44-30 five minutes into the half. 

An 11-3 Cal run narrowed the Bobcats' lead to 6 at 47-41 with 9 minutes remaining in the game after a pair of Aimaq and Tyson layups, a Jalen Cone trey and an Aimaq dunk, with the Bears also picking things up on defense. A Tyson jumper and a pair of Aimaq free throws with 4:40 left further narrowed the deficit to 2 but a Walker driving bucket with the and-1 and a Sam Lecholat trey pushed the MSU lead back out to 57-51 with 3:17 left.

7 straight points by Tyson got the Bears back in the game as they cut the MSU deficit to 1 with 2:34 remaining. A Bears’ turnover combined with a Bobcat layup and a pair of free throws by guard Tyler Patterson pushed their lead back to 5 with 1:20 left. A pair of Tyson free throws cut the deficit to 3 with :29 left and when the got the ball back, they two chances to tie it and force overtime but a pair of missed Cone 3-point attempts missed their mark as time expired.

When asked how he felt the team played after the game, Cone didn’t mince any words.

“Horrible,” Cone said. “It was unacceptable. Coach had us prepared for this game. The coaching staff told us they were going to come in here and fight and the players - I’ll take the game for that. I’m the captain. We did not come out prepared. We did not step out into this arena ready to play tonight and I’ll take that one. I didn’t have the guys prepared and ready and on edge. And we’ve got to realize, we’re the underdog, too, man. We’ve got to come out fighting every game like we’re the underdog. So I definitely take that one. My guys just weren’t prepared and it was horrible basketball on our end.”

The loss dropped the Bears to 2-2 as they prepare to head to San Juan Capistrano for the SoCal Challenge against UTEP at 9:30 pm Monday at JSerra High School. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

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Bears Fall to Bobcats in Turnover Plagued Game, 63-60

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