Anteaters Fall in Overtime
In what proved to be one of the most memorable matches of the year thus far, UC Irvine had its Homecoming spoiled as the Anteaters fell 86-90 in an overtime loss to Hawai’i at the Bren Events Center Saturday night.
It was a match-up of opposing styles in the Big West, as Hawai’i’s top ranked offense edged out Irvine’s top ranked defense in front of a near capacity-crowd of 4,305. Coming into the game with a record of 6-0 in January, the loss was not only UC Irvine’s first loss in 2014 but their first in conference play as well. Nevertheless, the Anteaters retained their position at first place in the Big West, with an overall record of 13-8 and a 4-1 conference record.
All 10 of the game’s starters ended the night in double-digits, with sophomore forward Isaac Fotu leading the Rainbow Warriors to victory with a game high 30 points. It should be noted that Hawai’i’s starters logged considerably more minutes than their opponents, as Mamadoue Ndiaye and Will Davis II were both benched for the majority of the first half due to early foul trouble.
Fortunately, Irvine’s bench was more than up to the task of taking on Hawai’i’s starters. Led by sophomore guard Aaron Wright’s 12 points, UC Irvine received 27 points from its reserve players, while Hawai’i’s bench was scoreless for the night.
Thanks to UC Irvine’s Antourage, the atmosphere in the arena was electric as students showed up in full force to support their men’s basketball team. The Anteaters’ faithful presence could be felt throughout the night, as enthusiastic chants of “U-C-I!” and “Let’s Go ‘Eaters!” could be heard from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer. It wasn’t a good night to be a ref, as the home crowd had no reservations about voicing their opinions, as chants of “Ref You Suck!” and “Bullshit!” could be heard several times throughout the night in response to certain calls.
The game began promisingly enough for the men’s team, as they won the tip-off and quickly took the lead off of a quick lay-up by junior forward Will Davis II less than 30 seconds in. However, the NCAA’s 17th ranked offense quickly fired back with 10 unanswered points in a run that saw senior guard Brandon Spearman score two consecutive three-pointers. While the Anteaters struggled offensively early on, the Rainbow Warriors made all of their early field goal attempts, going 8/8 until a missed three-pointer by guard Garrett Nevels at the 14:26 mark.
The Homecoming crowd was not discouraged in spite of their team’s early game woes, as they attempted to will their Anteaters back into the game with chants of “Defense! Defense!” Aaron Wright would spark the comeback for the Anteaters, driving to the net for three consecutive lay-ups and eliciting a deafening roar from the crowd as he cut down Hawai’i’s lead from 10 to four at 9:38.
In the final five minutes of the half, the men’s team began exhibiting the extent of their defensive acumen, as they began forcing turnovers and coming up with much-needed steals. At 2:35, freshman Ioannis Dimakopoloulos would give the Anteaters the lead off a pair of free throws at 37-36, for the first time since the opening minute. However, the best was yet to come as Alex Young sank an improbable three-pointer from 40 feet out to beat the buzzer and stir the crowd into a frenzy.
During the half-time show, this year’s homecoming court was presented, with David Conley and Jacklyn Uweh respectively being voted Homecoming King and Queen. Other light-hearted moments during the game included spectacles such as an adolescent sitting court-side break-dancing to the audience’s delight.
Coming into the second half, UC Irvine held a 43-38 lead. Their biggest lead would come later on in the half when Chris McNearly’s basket put the Anteaters up 59-49 with 12:29 remaining in regulation. Just as the game seemed to be getting out of reach, Isaac Fotu and Chris Standhardinger brought Hawai’i back within one off of their combined 11 points at 9:42. Though the Anteaters never gave back the lead, they were never able to completely pull away from the seemingly revitalized Warriors.
As the final seconds of regulation winded down, the Anteaters nursed a three point lead at 78-75 with 17 seconds to go. The game seemed all but secured when freshman guard Luke Nelson made an emphatic block on a three-point attempt by Garrett Nevels with six seconds on the clock. However, with Hawai’i still having possession, it would be the Rainbow Warrior’s turn to end the half with a buzzer beater as Keith Shamburger sank the most unlikely of shots from 23 feet to send the game into overtime.
Overtime was a much more contested affair, with the lead changing several times. To the crowd’s displeasure, Ndiyae was hit with his sixth personal and fouled out with 2:03 to go. Trailing 86-88 with 13 seconds left, the Anteaters found junior guard Travis Souza for an open three-pointer that teased Anteaters by going in then out of the basket.
“As a team we’re disappointed and probably feel a little unlucky again like we did against Fresno, but I don’t want to take anything away from Hawai’i and say they were lucky to beat us” Russell Turner, the head coach, said. “We didn’t rebound well enough, we didn’t defend well enough, we let a team get a real rhythm against our zone, and I thought they figured it out as the game went on and were pretty good against it.”
Coach Turner hopes to use the loss as a learning experience for his players. The Anteaters will need to quickly pick themselves back up, as they will be facing UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly on the road next week.
“We’ll be back to working, when you give up 90 points and you’re constructed as a defensive team the way we are, it won’t be difficult to convince our guys that we can do a little better than that, so we’ll get to work and try to be better.”