After months of anticipation, the long wait for the return of the UC Irvine men’s basketball team ended with an exhibition game against Vanguard University, where the Anteaters defeated the Lions 83-59, led by senior forward Mike Best who led all scorers with 14 points.
“I just wanted to come out and get the jitters out and get started on the season,” said Best.
Excitement was in the air with the boisterous 2,411 people in attendance cheering on UCI’s solid defensive performance and dunks coming from junior center Mamadou Ndiaye.
“The home crowd tonight was terrific. The student crowd was outstanding,” said head coach Russell Turner. “If we can generate crowds like that on a nightly basis, we’re going to be hard to beat here in the Bren.”
Jitters were present for the ‘Eaters in the first opening possessions, as they were not able to convert a basket in the first three minutes of play and quickly found themselves down 4-0 Ndiaye — who ended the night with 10 points and five rebounds — scored in the paint with the foul for a three-point opportunity, which he did not convert. Senior guard Dominique Dunning, who scored seven points with four rebounds and a block, forced a steal off a Vanguard player and converted a layup in transition to give the ‘Eaters the 6-4 lead, which they never gave up for the rest of the game. The ‘Eaters would hold the Lions to an egregious 27 percent shooting percentage while also shooting an efficient 56 percent in the first half. Both teams struggled from outside the arc but Irvine capitalized inside and doubled Vanguard 40-20 for the game. Best would score all of his 14 points in the first half to propel the ‘Eaters to a 43-25 lead heading into the second half of play.
UCI’s second unit had a strong outing in the game as they outscored Vanguard’s bench 38-17. Junior guard Jaron Martin proved to be a spark off the bench by contributing 12 points to go along with two rebounds and two assists. Another player who flourished was sophomore guard Haroldas Saprykinas, who finished with 10 points, six of which were from beyond the arc. True freshman Darrian Traylor contributed with six points and an assist off 2-3 shooting.
“We have a lot of guys on our team that are really good players,” said Turner. “We’ve got a deep team.”
The lead was too large to overcome, but the Lions continued to grind, and eventually cut a 30-point lead to 19-point lead with three minutes left in the game. This was due in part to Vanguard’s ability to rebound for second chance points, an area of the game where the Lions beat UCI, 20-11. Vanguard also beat the the ‘Eaters in the rebound category, 43-39.
“I thought we had a lot of good defensive possessions, and we couldn’t finish by pursuing the ball,” said Turner. “A game like that is good for us to . . . emphasize the importance of rebounding.”
The regular season opener for the ‘Eaters will be Friday night, as they take on UC San Diego at the Bren Events Center.