Welcoming in Mountain West opponent Utah State for their season opener, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team looked to lean on the experience of their seniors to compete against a formidable team Friday night at the Bren Events Center.
With senior guard Luke Nelson out nursing a hamstring injury and senior guard Jaron Martin having a disappointing night however, the ‘Eaters struggled to produce on the floor and ultimately fell to the Aggies by a score of 72-56 in front of 1883 fans in the Bren on Veterans Day.
“I didn’t feel like the level of confidence on the floor was very good for a lot of that game and that affected our communication, energy, it appeared, and that was disappointing.” said head coach Russell Turner, “I’ve got to remind myself that all the guys we started all haven’t started very much and I don’t want to make excuses for what appeared to be breakdown of our competitive level but we will get that better.”
Martin went 1-10 in the contest only scoring three points in his 28 minutes played. The ‘Eaters, as a whole, did not do well from the floor as they converted on 29 percent of their shots compared to the Aggies’ 47 percent. Aggie Senior wing Jalen Moore led all scorers with 22 points while grabbing three rebounds and dishing out three assists. Four different starters scored in double digits for the Aggies while senior center Ioannis Dimakopoulos was the lone ‘Eater starter to earn 10 points. Although the ‘Eaters received a big loss at home to open up the 2016-2017 campaign, coach Turner saw some signs of positivity with his freshman’s play, particularly with guard Eyassu Worku (who led the ‘Eaters with 11 points) and center Brad Greene (who finished with six points and four rebounds).
“I really like what I saw from Brad, he was terrific, in seven minutes he asserted himself on the defensive end, as a rebounder and as a screener and he looked like he was pretty sure what his role was.” said Turner, “I was really pleased with the freshman with the way they came in, fought, and competed tonight.”
UCI shot a poor 28 percent from the floor and 31 percent from deep. The Aggies’ defense stifled any offense the ‘Eaters were trying to run and as a result they were forced to take shots late into the shot clock. The ‘Eaters failed to establish an identity in the paint and scored a mere four points inside and more than half of their total shots in the first period came from beyond the arc. The Aggies would take advantage of the ‘Eaters eight turnovers and turn them into 12 points in their favor. After the ‘Eaters would get their largest lead of the night at 15-14, the Aggies pulled away on a 9-0 run to create separation and used a 22-3 run to take control and not look back. Behind an efficient 43 percent shooting percentage, the Aggies assumed a 40-24 lead heading into the second half.
Utah State opened up the second half on a 7-1 run to go up by 22 points. With the starters struggling woes continuing, freshmen guard Evan Leonard and forward John Edgar Jr. stepped up and chipped in eight and seven points respectively. It was Irvine’s bench that accounted for more than half of the total scoring as the starters grappled with putting the ball in the hoop. The ‘Eaters showed some life with a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 12 but the Aggie lead was insurmountable and bounced back up to 16.
“I give Utah State a lot of credit for the way they dictated the game. They are an unusually tall team in some positions and their guy Jaylen Moore was terrific tonight and I give him credit, he was a tough deal for us, “ said Turner, “We played like a team that is fairly inexperienced to college basketball, because we are, but it is my job to make sure that we are better able to perform and function.”
The ‘Eaters have only a couple of days rest as they host South Dakota State Monday night at 7:00 p.m. in the Bren.