Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Men’s Basketball Tested in Challenging Road Trip

UC Irvine men’s basketball (2-3) had quite a challenging road trip over the weekend, taking on two undefeated power five programs as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.

The ‘Eaters headed into rowdy Kansas State (3-0) territory Friday for a 7 p.m. showdown against the Wildcats and on Sunday, made their way to Arizona State (4-0) for an early 11 a.m. tip.

Kansas State

As though playing against a high-caliber Wildcat team that saw tournament play last year was not enough, the ‘Eaters were greeted with 6,451 crazed fans in what is now known as the “Octagon of Doom” Friday night.

UCI showed a nice defensive effort through the first half, coming within five at one point, but Kansas State’s offense would show out consistently through the entire 40 minutes of action to route the ‘Eaters, 71-49.

Sophomore center Brad Greene checked in for a team-high nine points on 4-7 shooting. Sophomore guard John Edgar Jr. added seven points and seven boards as junior forward Jonathan Galloway grabbed a game-best nine boards to go along with five points. No ‘Eater had hit double-digits in the scoring department.

The Wildcats were off to a blistering start, going on an 18-4 run to get things going in the first half. Doing what the program has hung their hats on, the ‘Eaters turned up their pressure defensively and managed to dig into their deep deficit. On a lay-up from sophomore guard Eyassu Worku, who finished with six points on the evening, the ‘Eaters were down just five, 20-15, with 6:59 remaining before the half.

Kansas State called a time-out and quickly came out with a 17-7 effort that would hand them their largest lead yet at 37-22.

Shooting just 26.7 percent from the floor and going 0-8 from three, the ‘Eaters struggled to capitalize on their defensive efforts, heading into the half down big, 37-24.

Freshman guard Justin Wertner broke the three-point lid off the basket for the ‘Eaters in the second half, coming through with back-to-back triples to bring the ‘Eaters within nine, 39-30. It would be the closest that the ‘Eaters would get for the remainder of the evening.

Junior guard Kamau Stokes, who withdrew from the NBA draft back in May to return for his third season with the Wildcats, paced the second half with seven points and drained a free throw to give Kansas State their largest advantage on the night at 26 with 4:01 to spare. Also scoring seven in the opening period, Stokes would go on to register a game-high 14 points to go with three assists and two steals in 28 minutes of action.

Kansas State would hold out the rest of the game to finalize the score at 71-49.

Arizona State

It did not get any easier for the ‘Eaters Sunday when they ventured into Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena for another demanding matchup.

Facing another fast-tempo, high-energy offense, UCI fell once more, 99-78.

A trio of ‘Eaters shined in the losing effort, scoring 15 points apiece. Sophomore forward Tommy Rutherford had a big first half, scoring 12 of his 15 in the opening period alone. Meanwhile, sophomore guard Max Hazzard shook off a scoreless half and went for 15 after the break while fellow sophomore guard Evan Leonard was a steady contributor throughout adding seven in the first and going for a perfect eight in the second.  

UCI kept it a closer affair in the opening half against Arizona State, shooting 46.9 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. Rutherford bounced back from a quiet five-point night against the Wildcats, posting 12 points on 5-7 shooting.

Arizona State, however, took care of the ball and was connecting on the majority of the looks that they got. The home team shot a blazing 69.2 percent and was even hotter from three, knocking down 76.9 percent of their shots. Senior guards Trey Holder and Shannon Evan II combined for 32 points in the half alone, going 4-5 and 4-4 from three respectively.

With their seemingly unstoppable shooting, Arizona State broke away from the ‘Eaters on a 27-14 run for a 17-point lead, 37-20. The home squad continued to get Wells Fargo Arena rocking, burying a string of triples, the last of which came from Holder two seconds before the buzzer to end the half 56-38.

UCI continued to battle coming out of the second half, finding much more production from their guards. After failing to scratch in the first half, Hazzard came alive in the second, leading the team with 15 points on 5-7 shooting. Meanwhile, fellow Leonard went a perfect 4-4 from the floor for eight while finish with 15 on the night to tie with Hazzard for team-high honors.

Arizona State did not skip a beat, however, falling behind Holder who emerged with 16 points for another big half. Holder would finish with 32 points, five assists and two rebounds in 35 minutes of play.

A Worku lay-in and free throw on a latter play shaved a mounting Arizona State lead to 14, 87-73, but this would mark the final major run for the ‘Eaters as the opposition 12-5 run to close the game out at 99-78.

Despite the loss, the ‘Eaters displayed resilient effort on the defensive end, to get within striking range in both contests—a quality that head coach Russell Turner believes will aid the program’s hopes of performing at a high level come conference tournament time.

UCI is not quite done yet on the road, as they will travel to Nevada to face the Rider Broncs on Thanksgiving night.