With less than a minute to play and the game out of reach, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (17-6, 6-1) failed to keep their composure against the Gauchos and lost their first conference game of the season. What was deemed as a festive night for UCI ended with senior Alex Young receiving a technical foul and head coach Russell Turner being ejected for arguing the call that sealed the game for UCSB.
As a result, the ‘Eaters suffered their first loss in conference play to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (9-11, 3-4), 76-60, on Homecoming Day in front of a sellout crowd of 5,000. Difficulties to take care of the ball – with 15 total turnovers on the night – and defend against the Gaucho offensive onslaught resulted in the ‘Eaters’ first loss at home this season.
In absence of coach Turner, who left the arena after being ejected, assistant head coach Ali Ton spoke of the ‘Eaters’ disappointing loss.
“It’s basketball,” said Ton, “We came here with the hope to get a good win […] but we wished we could’ve finished the game better. Win or lose, this is basketball […] you just have to learn from this game and be better, we can’t let this game affect us and we have to build that momentum right back.”
The Gaucho offense was headlined by three guards who finished in double figures, senior Michael Bryson with 18 points, sophomore Gabe Vincent with 14 points, and junior Eric Childress with 12 points. The ‘Eaters 15 turnovers resulted in 16 points for the Gauchos in a tightly contested matchup until the closing minute of play.
It was evident that coach Turner wanted to prevent the game from becoming a three point shootout against Santa Barbara as the ‘Eaters began to pound the ball early in the game. Irvine scored 18 points in the paint in the first half and limited the Gauchos, who had made eight threes in the first period in their last encounter earlier this month, to shooting 30 percent from deep. The ‘Eater offense soon went cold as they committed 12 of their 15 total turnovers in the first half, allowing the Gauchos to go on a 12-0 run and gain a six point lead. In addition to not being able to take care of the ball, the ‘Eaters had difficulty moving the ball against the Gaucho zone, only having two assists for the entire half. Momentum seemed to surely be on the side of the Gauchos after Bryson hit a three point shot, off a turnover, at the end of the first half earning a 31-25 lead heading into the second period of play.
The ‘Eaters came out red hot in the second half as they went on a 15-5 run, fueled by Young who scored 10 of his points in the period, and took back the lead. Ultimately, it was the ‘Eaters’ inability to rebound that gave the Gauchos 17 second chance opportunities for converted points that fueled a 10-2 run of their own to grab the lead once again.
“We’re a team that pride ourselves on taking away those second chance points and they got 17 today, and we were not there on those […] loose ball opportunities,” said Ton.
With both teams tied at 56 all with nearly six minutes left in the game, the ‘Eaters could not find any rhythm offensively, giving up a 20-4 run to end the contest and snap their seven game winning streak.
Saturday night’s defeat marks the ‘Eaters’ first loss in the month of January, which goes back to their game against No. 2 Kansas at the time.
With Hawai’i losing to Long Beach State, the ‘Eaters still sit in first place in the Big West standings. UCI will be on the road this week with a visit to Cal Poly on Wednesday and then travel to Honolulu for a much anticipated matchup against Hawai’i the following week at 10:00 p.m. pacific time.