Men’s Basketball Split First Two Games of Conference
UC Irvine 82 Long Beach State 88
The UC Irvine men’s basketball team (8-8, 1-1) hosted its first two conference games in the Bren Events Center where they lost to rival Long Beach State on Thursday (88-82) and won against UC Riverside on Saturday night (69-55).
On Thursday night, UC Irvine held their conference opener against their rival Long Beach State (7-11, 1-1), where they lost in a thriller, 88-82. With 2,963 fans in attendance, including Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, the Bren was host to a game that had eight lead changes and truly went down to the wire.
The Black and Blue Rivalry was in full effect Thursday night with both teams shooting for over 50 percent from the field. Long Beach State’s senior guard Mike Caffey scored a career high of 27 points which pushed his team to edge a win over Irvine. Anteater junior guard Alex Young led his team with 24 points, which was also a career high, knocking in four three-point shots on the night. The ‘Eaters had a great contribution from their bench with 27 points and also made their mark in the paint with 34 points, but it still was not enough to stop the red hot 49ers.
Irvine’s first half did not come easy, as they were down for the majority of the period and had to rally back into the game that eventually was decided in the concluding minutes. The Anteaters had a tough time guarding 49er Caffey, as he went for a perfect six for six shooting five minutes into the game, giving them an early lead of 15-6. UCI crawled back into the game with their defense and a long awaited return of sophomore center Mamadou Ndiaye. Ndiaye, having missed his last nine games due to a foot injury, scored six points in the first half and his defensive presence was felt. The sudden shift in momentum was back in the Anteaters’ way as they ended the half on a 21-9 run to give them a two-point lead, 40-38.
UCI came into the second half with much more intensity on the defensive end using their patented zone defense causing Long Beach to continuously shoot from the perimeter. The Anteaters quickly began to play the inside game as senior forward Will Davis ll scored 13 points, which were also accompanied by three blocks. Both teams began to take it to each other on offense with Irvine attacking the paint and Long Beach cashing in from beyond the arc. 49er guard McKay LaSalle dropped five three-pointers on the game to help his team get the comeback win. With the ‘Eaters up seven points, their largest lead and with 5:30 to go in the game, the 49ers had to gain momentum and capitalize on Irvine’s mistakes. A couple of costly turnovers by the Anteaters and a three-pointer by Caffey with 3:40 left in the game cut UCI’s lead by two and would set up for a dramatic finish in the Bren Events Center.
With time running out for both teams to get a safe lead, Long Beach State began to press the Anteaters on every inbounds play. UCI senior guard Travis Souza drew a shooting foul on a three point attempt, with 2:47 left in the game, to bump the ‘Eaters up five as he cashed in on his free throws. On the next possession, Long Beach State quickly answered back with three points of their own, as LaSalle drained a three to cut the lead back to two. A couple of costly turnovers by the Anteaters led to a pair of threes by 49er Caffey, which gave Long Beach a four point lead with 1:19 left in the game. The game seemed to be lost for the ‘Eaters until Young hit a clutch three with 23 seconds left in the game to cut the lead to two. Time ran out on Irvine as Long Beach made their free throws to seal the game in what was a huge road win for the 49ers.
“I was disappointed in our inability to finish the game,” said UCI head coach Russell Turner. “When they pressured, we were careless with the ball on multiple possessions.”
With a tough loss being their third in the last four games, the ‘Eaters looked to bounce back and avoid a 0-2 record to begin conference play.
UC Irvine 69 UC Riverside 55
UC Irvine had another home game Saturday night as they played the UC Riverside Highlanders (8-8, 1-1). Irvine won the game 69-55 thanks to their elevated effort on defense and strong performance on the offensive end. Young did a little bit of everything, as he scored 14 points to go along with six rebounds, five assists, three steals and one block. Sophomore guard Jaron Martin scored a career high of 16 points, four of six for threes, to lead both teams in scoring. The Anteaters shot lights out from the perimeter, as they were 70 percent from beyond the arc.
Irvine did a great job with their defence, holding the Highlanders shooting 40 percent of the game. UCI came ready to play and defend their home court one last time before heading on a three game road trip.
Irvine started the game on a quick 10-0 run as senior forward Will Davis ll held Riverside leading scorer Taylor Johns scoreless in the first half. The former Big West Defensive Player of the Year had two blocks in the first half. The ‘Eaters rolled in the first half capitalizing on Riverside’s inability to score, shooting 24 percent on the field. Young led all scorers at the half with 11 points, shooting five of six from the field.
The Anteaters opened up the second half with another 10-0 run and eventually led the game by 20 points. Martin was active on defense all game and benefited from transition threes, which led to his career high 16 points. With 3:31 left in the game, Young made a drive to the hoop for a contested lay-up and also drew the foul for a three-point play, which sealed the win for UCI. The poor shooting by Riverside and stellar offensive performance by the Anteaters paved the way for an easy home win to give Irvine a 1-1 record to start conference play.
UC Irvine will not play in the Bren for two weeks, with their next three games on the road.
“This is a really important segment of our schedule,” said coach Turner of the road games that lie ahead.
“I expect to have Luke Nelson back,” said Turner, referring to the Big West Freshman of the Year last season. “I’m hopeful we will have him for our next game”.
The Anteaters are set to face Cal State Fullerton (8-8, 0-1) this Thursday to start off the series of away games. They will return to the Bren on Jan. 29 to face the defending Big West conference champions Cal Poly Mustangs.
“We were more defensively engaged,” said Turner. “Our goal is to get better every day.”