In front of a sellout crowd of 4,233 people in attendance, Junior guard Luke Nelson continued his recent stellar play by setting a new career high of 29 points against UC Riverside Saturday night in an 84-68 victory in the Bren Events Center.
“Credit to my teammates, they found me open [tonight],” said Nelson, “As I said before, we have a team that any day a different guy can go and score big and today was my day and I took advantage of it.”
Shooting an efficient percentage – 10 for 15 from the floor and four out of five from deep – is what Nelson contributed to the ‘Eaters’ win over the Highlanders as they move to 2-0 on the young conference season.
The ‘Eaters (13-5, 2-0) had one of their most impressive outings on the offensive end as they shot 56% on field goals and 67% from beyond the arc. The ability to score at such a high percentage and keep the Highlanders to shooting a poor 36% on the night was enough to sustain the comeback attempt and earn their seventh win at home for the season.
“I’m pleased with the way we shot tonight,” said head coach Russell Turner, “When we shoot the ball at that level we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Junior center Mamadou Ndiaye played a factor in the ‘Eaters high shooting percentage as he ended the contest with 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks.
The ‘Eater offense seemed to be a jack of all trades as they scored 30 points in the paint, in comparison to Riverside’s 22, to help bolster their efficient scoring on the night inside and out.
Nelson wasted little time to have his presence known in the game as he scored 18 of his points — and all four of his three pointers — in just the first half. An 11-2 run with nearly 10 minutes to go in the first half is what pushed the ‘Eaters to a double digit lead as they never looked back for the rest of the game. The Highlanders’ (9-9, 0-2) ability to out rebound the ‘Eaters, 19-16, led to their six second chance points to prevent the game from getting away from reach. The barrage of three point shooting in the first half (seven out of 10) fueled the ‘Eater offense and ultimately found themselves having a 43-29 lead at the end of the period.
After trading baskets for nearly the first opening 12 minutes of the second half, the ‘Eaters went on an 11-4 run with six minutes left in the game to reach their highest lead of 21 points. Highlander seniors Jaylen Bland and Taylor Johns, with 20 and 15 points respectively, both contributed in a late comeback attempt that saw the ‘Eater 21 point lead get to as close to 12 in the closing minutes of the game. It was the ‘Eaters’ ability to convert 18 free throws in the second half that assured them their fifth win in the last six games.
The ‘Eaters will now venture on the road to face rival Long Beach State on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (Prime Ticket) and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday for a 4:00 p.m. tipoff.
“I think our guys understand that Long Beach is a great environment for basketball,” said Turner, “I’m hoping that we can have a solid performance on the road.”
UCI will return to the Bren on Jan. 20 to face Cal State Fullerton.