A disappointing 92-84 Anteater loss to the Cal State Fullerton Titans on Saturday evening kicked off a five-game home stand for Coach Russell Turner and the men’s basketball team.
At 6-13, and 3-4 in conference, UC Irvine falls to a tie for fifth in the Big West.
What began as an absolute Anteater obliteration, courtesy of Cal State Fullerton turned into one of the most thrilling games of Irvine’s season.
UCI entered halftime down 56-30, in what was likely their weakest half of the season. Led by juniors Daman Starring, Mike Wilder and Derick Flowers, the Anteaters nearly overcame the 30-point first-half deficit and managed to take the cross-town rivals down to the wire.
Irvine had a tough time slowing down Fullerton — the number one offensive team in the Big West. The ’Eaters surrendered a season-high 92 points and allowed Fullerton to shoot 65 percent from the 3-point range.
“The things I stressed to our guys is that [Fullerton] is the leading scoring team in the conference, the top 3-point shooting team in the conference, the top offensive rebounding team in the conference,” Turner said. “They’re talented, and their first five guys are as talented offensively as any guys in the league.”
After exchanging baskets in the initial minutes, Irvine could not buy a basket. An early 13-0 run gave Fullerton a commanding 25-7 lead. The Anteaters could not find a rhythm offensively as they went could from beyond the arc and failed to establish any presence inside the paint. Fullerton sat comfortably in a 2-3 zone as the frustrated Anteaters continually launched shots from 3-point land with minimal success.
The Anteaters shot three of 15 from the field to start the game, including 0 for 8 from 3-point range. Fullerton, on the other hand, went 10 of 16 from the field and 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, adding 12 second-chance points. At one point, Irvine fell behind by 30 points before entering the break down by 26.
Early in the second half, the ’Eaters made a run to cut the Fullerton lead to 18 points. Eventually UCI cut the deficit down to single-digits, before closing it to a two-possession game.
The halftime lead was enough to hold off the Anteaters for Fullerton, who never let Irvine within an arm’s length. Whenever Irvine built up momentum, the Titans responded with equalizing buckets throughout the second half.
The ’Eaters played inspiring basketball in the second half. Starring scored 17 points in the second half, finishing with a career-high 23 points. Flowers chipped in with 18 points — 13 in the second half — and six assists.
Despite the loss, Turner was proud to see his offense outscore Fullerton 54-36 in the second half.
“We [have] to be proud of our guys for doing what we should do and that’s fighting hard for all 40 minutes,” Turner said. “We didn’t shoot [3-pointers] well in the first half, that’s how we dug ourselves in a hole. We missed eight or nine in a row. I’m concerned about our team’s inability to create free throws and our inability to finish around the basket. We work on those things every day and we’ve got to get better.”
Seattle University comes to town on Jan. 24 before Irvine host’s UC Riverside in the Homecoming matchup at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 5 p.m.
UCI defeated Seattle 85-77, while suffering two single-digit losses to the UCR Highlanders in 2010.