UC Irvine men’s basketball (2-1) took full advantage of their glaring size discrepancy over their opponents, making the most out of their opportunities in the paint to secure a 91-52 victory over Chapman University (0-1) Tuesday night at the Bren Events Center.
The ‘Eaters registered 54 of their 91 points from within the key—most of which came from the big men—while crashing the glass for a 52-29 edge over the Panthers. Defensively, UCI also did not offer any easy looks, as their big men sent away 12 shots while only allowing 14 on the night from inside.
“[Our big guys] make each other better and they play with a fury,” head coach Russell Turner said. “They play hard and there is no real substitute in the game for guys who are willing to do that over and over again.”
Among the big men, sophomore forward Tommy Rutherford led the team in scoring with a career-high 19 points on 9-12 shooting to go along with six boards and three rejections.
While Rutherford paced the ‘Eaters in points, two of his fellow big men also put in work and registered their first double-doubles of the year. Junior forward Jonathan Galloway put in 11 points and gobbled up 14 rebounds as sophomore forward Brad Greene also joined the double-double club, coming off the bench for 15 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
“We played very dominant tonight,” Rutherford said. “Brad [Greene]…I’m really proud of him. He went out there and finally got his double-double that he deserves…and Gallo[way], another double-double…that’s just effort and heart there when we have big guys who want to do that every night.”
Chapman freshman center Reed Smith’s free throws in the 17:48 minute mark of the opening half notched the game up at 2-2, but it would be the closest that the Panthers would ever get as the ‘Eaters answered with a 17-3 run for a 19-5 lead, never to look back from that point on.
Rutherford, displaying an array of different post moves, glided in for 11 of his 19 points to ignite the onslaught as Greene checked in and tipped in nine to continue where Rutherford left off. On the other end of the floor, Rutherford, Greene, and Galloway combined for seven blocks.
Shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three while holding Chapman to 29.6 shooting—36.4 from deep—the ‘Eaters would head into the half up big, 48-22.
Despite holding a 26-point advantage and playing against a division three foe, the ‘Eaters did not let up and stuck to their initial game plan: playing hardnosed defense, pounding the glass, and controlling the paint.
“Any chance we get to go out there and play as hard as we can…we are excited…we don’t care who we are playing,” Rutherford said. “We are going to treat our opponents with respect and give our hearts out to win that game.”
As Rutherford, Galloway, and Greene held down the key, starting sophomores Evan Leonard and John Edgar Jr. played the pacing lanes, each finishing the night with three steals a piece, to help force 16 Panther turnovers by the end of the evening.
Edgar Jr. caught fire in the second period, scoring seven straight points for the ‘Eaters, the last two coming on a clean steal that led to quick two-hand jam that got the fans going and handed the ‘Eaters a 34-point lead, 67-33, with 11:29 remaining in regulation.
Still possessing a sizeable 85-50 edge with 2:16 left, senior guard Teo Davidian made his away to the scores table and checked in for the first time in front of the ‘Eaters crowd. Davidian, who has served as a walk-on and manager for the squad in his last three years and earned a spot on the roster prior to the start of the season, capped the game off with a baseline drive and lay-in followed by a euro-step and finger roll to get the crowd and his teammates off their feet.
“He played well and he played well in the last one too,” coach Turner said during his post-game interview with Trent Rush, UCI’s play-by-play radio announcer. “It wasn’t just our bench who showed him great support, it was the whole crowd that was here…and I know all the other former players who got a chance to be teammates with Teo when Teo’s role was different from what it was tonight and loved seeing what he was able to do. There are a lot of guys in the arc that know Teo could play and tonight a lot more people know and I’m happy for him because he was ready to perform when his time came.”
Finishing off the night with a monstrous 91-52 victory, the ‘Eaters hope to hold on to their confidence in order to boost themselves up for a pair of tough challenges in Kansas State and Arizona State—two programs that have collected multiple national tournament appearances—this weekend as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.
“Those are big games,” Rutherford said. “Coach always emphasizes that the next game is the most important game of the year…they’re going to be tough environments to play in but I think our guys can handle it and we’re dedicated and we’re ready to face those teams.”
The ‘Eaters are slated to face the Wildcats Friday at 7:00pm in the hostile Bramlage Coliseum, also known as the “Octagon of Doom,” before heading to Arizona State Sunday for an early 11:00 a.m. matchup.
“We are excited to go on the road and compete against higher level opponents,” coach Turner said. “We’ve taken these challenges every year I’ve been here and the players look forward to them…and that’s fun, that’s an exciting, interesting part of college basketball here…we know that those road games are going to be tough ones to win but we’re going to go on the road with the expectation that we are going to compete and see what we can do.”