After scoring only two points against Boise State in the opening game of the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy tournament Thursday, senior forward Mike Best took his poor performance to heart and made sure the ‘Eater bigs had more of an impact against Boston College on Friday.
“I wanted to win this game,” said Best. “I thought we should’ve won last game, and that kind of got to me and had me more driven.”
Following their first loss of the season, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (5-1) took the initiative to reestablish their identity as they outscored the Eagles 40-16 in points in the paint. Coming off his worst performance of the young season, Best ended the night leading all scorers with 18 points and also notched a game-high nine rebounds. Also doing damage in the post was junior center Mamadou Ndiaye, who came off a four-point performance on Thursday to bounce back and score 16 points (off 7 of 8 shooting) and grabbed five rebounds. Thanks to the ‘Eaters’ ability to score in the paint, UCI recorded a 51 percent field goal percentage and defeated the Eagles 80-67.
“I’m really proud of my team’s performance,” said head coach Russell Turner. “We bounced back well from a performance that disappointed us yesterday and defeated a team that is really talented.”
UCI imposed their will inside early on, as they outscored Boston College 26-2 in points in the paint in the first half. The ‘Eaters’ defensive intensity allowed them to go on big runs in the first period, and they eventually found themselves up to as many as 20 points. This was largely due to Boston College’s five turnovers (compared to none by the ‘Eaters) in the opening 10 minutes of the game. The Eagles wouldn’t let up, however, as a 9-0 run with 3:04 left in the half cut the deficit to 11. UCI would fight to put their lead up to 15 until Boston College sank a three-point shot at the buzzer to cut the ‘Eater lead, 43-31, to end the first half of play.
The second half was more of the same, with the ‘Eaters taking a commanding lead but then allowing the Eagles to claw back and make a run. Five minutes into the second half, the ‘Eaters extended their lead to 18, but once again, the Eagles responded, cutting the lead to 10 with 6:25 left in the game. The ‘Eaters answered right back as junior guard Jaron Martin — who finished the game with 11 points — hit back to back threes to give them more breathing room heading into the closing minutes of play. Junior guard Luke Nelson put the final nail in the coffin with a three-point shot as the shot clock expired (with 1:45 left in the game) to down the Eagles and advance to Sunday’s matchup at the Honda Center. The win marks UCI’s first win against an ACC team in program history.
After playing in the fifth place game against Evansville, the ‘Eaters will embark on a four-game road trip before coming back to the Bren on Dec. 18 to face Chapman.