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It was only an exhibition game but it didn’t stand as one for the ’Eaters this Saturday night. With an assist from Chris McNealy, Mamadou Ndiaye slammed a welcoming dunk in response to his own college basketball debut. The clamorous buzzing of “Zot! Zot! Zot!” generated by the crowd of 1601 students alerted everyone in the stadium that the 2013-2014 basketball season was about to begin.

Courtesy of Marlin Agoub
Courtesy of Marlin Agoub

The game ended with UC Irvine winning 89-61 over the Chapman Panthers. The ’Eaters led the entire game with 32 points as their highest lead.

“I’m interested in finding out who are the most serious and tough-minded people on my team. That’s what we have to be—and if we’re not going to be that, then we won’t be ready when the time comes for us to do something special,” UCI head coach Russell Turner said.

A highlight of the night was when senior guard Chris McNealy dove for a steal from Chapman’s Brendon Rider’s turnover which resulted to a dunk from junior center John Ryan.

“Those plays have to be generated by a team. We don’t have guys that do just one-on-one dunks on people. Very few guys in college basketball can do that, but we have guys who can make really good plays,” Turner added.

John Ryan, who recently transferred from Fresno, exploded off the bench, going 7 for 9 from the field and finishing the game with 15 points, seven rebounds and one block in 17 minutes.

“The key for John is to sustain performance. The things he did were the things I expected him to do. Sometimes with him he does things I don’t expect him to do. I see a little growth with him. It’s a big game for him coming up against Fresno [and] that’ll be an emotional match up for him. I’m excited for the possibility for him stepping on a larger role and if he plays at a high level then we have a chance to be good,” Coach Turner said.

Chris McNealy ended the game with 17 points and three assists and two steals.

“The crowd atmosphere was really good. For our first game, it was good. But, we know we have a lot of things to work on, especially on the defensive end,” McNealy said.

“I know we’re a big team. Our goal is just to pound it inside. We have a lot of athletic guys. We can do the flashy plays but we want to be known for as a defensive team. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs this season. But we’re just going to have to stick through it.”

Mamadou Ndiaye started and scored nine points and had seven rebounds and five blocks.

“The game was fun because it was my first game in college. I was very excited to play this game.  There was a lot of people in here and it was a great time to play,” Ndiaye said.

“Everybody is comfortable in the team because we work together. We’re learning multiple styles. We hang out almost every day and we know each other,” he added.

“I think we’re going to be alright for this season because we do a lot of work together. We just started but we have a long way to go. But we will work throughout the year to get better at everything. There will be a lot of challenges. Like the big games and the Regionals. I think we will be challenged to play against big teams. We’d like to win the tournament if we can, ” Ndiaye said.

“I thought we were ready to play and had good energy. We were unselfish. We executed well on some plays but not a lot which is expected on your first time in front of the crowd under the lights,” Coach Russell Turner said.

Coach Turner indicated how this game doesn’t serve as the team’s foundation for the upcoming season. He stated that this game against Chapman forced the ’Eaters to play in different roles as the situation changes in preparation for the 2013-2014 opening game  this Friday against Fresno at 7 p.m. in the Bren Events Center.

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