Nearly 48 hours after suffering a grueling 74-52 loss in Hawai’i, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team had to immediately shift gears to defend home court Saturday night against CSUN.
“We weren’t able to go out there and perform at our best, but we knew [that], after that game was over, we had a long flight back and we knew that we had to prepare for tonight’s game,” said senior point guard Alex Young.
Motivated to get back on track, Young took it upon himself to play more aggressively and scored a career high of 36 points to help lead his team to a 93-84 victory over the Matadors (9-18, 4-7). Young’s scoring outburst was the most for the ‘Eaters since the 2003 season, when Mike Efevberha scored 37 points against Arkansas-Monticello.
“Tonight I was trying to be aggressive in all aspects of the game,” said Young. “I think I needed to do a little more tonight, especially coming off a tough road game, and I thought I would be the one to pick up the slack for us.”
While Young led all scorers, junior center Mamadou Ndiaye also chipped in with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. It was the ‘Eaters’ ability to dominate in the paint, both offensively and defensively, that helped push them over the Matadors. The ‘Eaters outscored CSUN 56-34 in points in the paint and also notched a total of 13 blocks as a team to help defend against the fast-paced tempo of the Matadors.
“The story of the game is Alex Young and the way he stepped up tonight as you need seniors to do,” said Head Coach Russell Turner. “I challenged our seniors on the return trip from Hawai’i to be good enough to win tonight … and that’s a sign of an experienced team with good character.”
The one struggle that the ‘Eaters did have was taking care of the ball against the CSUN full-court press, committing a total of 19 turnovers that gave up 22 points to the Matadors and helped them make a late game run, cutting a 20-point lead to just seven in the closing minutes of the game. Sophomore Jerron Wilbut, with 19 points and four steals, was a factor in the comeback attempt helping the CSUN bench outscore Irvine, 32-21. It took some of the starters to come back in the game for UCI to secure the victory and improve to a record of 19-7 overall and 8-2 in conference.
“We’ve got to move the ball to develop a rhythm on offense,” said Turner of his team’s inability to take care of the ball. “The game is played 40 minutes … and it’s not easy to finish a game like that when teams are crashing the boards, making their free throws and overall plays.”
After a tightly-contested first half, Young found his rhythm by scoring the ‘Eaters’ first 10 points in the second period, leading to an 18-4 run. The ‘Eaters would gain their largest lead of 20 points before letting up and allowing the Matadors to cut the score to single digits in the last minute of play. Turner would sub in both Young and junior Luke Nelson to close the game against a pestering CSUN press that created difficulty for the second unit.
The ‘Eaters will travel to Fullerton to face the Titans Wednesday night before hosting the rematch against Hawai’i on Saturday, with an 8:30 p.m. tipoff time broadcasted on ESPNU.