Despite failing to earn their second trip in three years to the NCAA Tournament, with a loss in the Big West tournament final against UC Davis, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team still had some basketball left play.
The ‘Eaters earned an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) with their regular season crown and were seeded at the eighth spot to face number one seed Illinois State Wednesday night at Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena.
UCI received big nights from senior guards Jaron Martin and Luke Nelson, scoring 24 and 17 points respectively, but ultimately fell in the opening round of the NIT 85-71 to the Redbirds.
Martin went nine of 17 from the floor and made nine of 10 threes — landing him at sixth all-time in the Anteater record books with his 190 three pointers made. His career total points places him at 1,062 and makes him the 27th ‘Eater to reach the 1,000 point club.
Big West Player of the Year Nelson also went five of 10 from beyond the arc as he increases his program leading tally to 258 threes. He ends his career fourth in total points (1,531) and assists (415), and fifth in steals (145) in UCI history.
Also in his final game for the ‘Eaters, senior center Ioannis Dimakopoulos finished his collegiate career with nine points and five rebounds.
Big West Defensive Player of the Year sophomore forward Jonathan Galloway grabbed a game high 11 rebounds — making it the tenth time he pulled double-digit boards this season.
For the Redbirds, senior forward Deontae Hawkins posted a team high 22 points off a perfect night from deep (6-6 3FG). Illinois State remain perfect at home at 16-0.
The ‘Eaters were able to win the battle of second chance points, 19-9, but were beaten in almost every other category. The Redbirds made 52.5 percent of their shots while the ‘Eaters posted a 42.4 percent showing from the floor. Illinois State outrebounded (41-36), had more assists (22-16) and bench points (21-15), and outscored UCI in the paint (22-20).
Both teams were able to shoot the ball well from distance in the opening period as the Redbirds went seven of 12 and the ‘Eaters eight of 14 of their own from three-point range. The Redbirds were able to close out the first half with a 43-34 advantage and led for the rest of the night. The ‘Eaters would come as close to trim the deficit to just six points, off a Martin three with 11:13 left, but the Redbirds answered with a 7-0 run to give them a double-digit lead for good.
“I give Illinois State a great deal of credit, but I’m also proud of my team for the effort, the intensity and character they showed tonight,”said head coach Russell Turner. “My three seniors have meant a lot to this program. They’ve been model student-athletes and I’m really proud of what we accomplished together.”
The ‘Eaters conclude the 2015-2016 campaign with a 21-15 overall record. This is the fifth consecutive 20-win season for UCI —playing in a postseason tournament in each year. They are one of 22 teams to have won 21 games in each of the past five years.