By Henry Curi and Vaibhav Gowda
The UC Irvine men’s basketball team matched up against Big West Conference rival Long Beach State this past Wednesday in a game that had both teams rolling to start the season, coming off a win from each of their previous match-ups.
Long Beach came out of the gates with a head full of steam, as their pressure defense controlled the tempo early on, forcing Irvine to take low percentage shots.
Beach’s zone defense proved to be effective, allowing Irvine to make only 12 of their 29 field goal attempts in the first half.
Senior forward Mason Riggins and senior guard Bryan Alberts were able to be the difference makers for Long Beach; together the two senior players contributed 16 of their team’s first 30 points in the period.
But Irvine was able to stick around regardless of early offensive struggles. Evan Leonard, third-year guard, was able to be the team’s offensive motor in the first, accounting for 11 points on 4-5 shooting.
Leonard had help from third-year center Tommy Rutherford, who was able to muscle his way into the paint for easy buckets and draw contact as well, which forced Long Beach in foul trouble.
As the first half progressed, UCI showed to be effective on the defensive as well, holding Long Beach to shoot only 39 percent from the field on 31 field goal attempts, as the final score for the first half had Irvine up 32-30.
The second half was a different story. Long Beach began to slowly pull away, as their perimeter defense and team-generated offense proved to be dominant against UCI.
Finding a way through UCI’s strong defense, the 49ers managed to get many things to go right for them.
Deishuan Booker, Long Beach’s top scorer coming into the game, was held to just four points, shooting only 1-8 shooting from the field thanks to great defensive play from UCI’s guards in the first half. He would come back to make 24 of his 28 points come in the second half. Booker made several trips to the line, scoring 15 of 16 of his free throw attempts. Long Beach’s second-half resurgence did not come from Booker alone, as Bryan Alberts scored 17.
Mason Riggins, who started for the the injured center Temidayo Yussuf, did not let his opportunity go to waste, scoring an important 14 points. The 49ers showed great depth with KJ Byers scoring 10 off the bench.
Fighting their way back, Long Beach were able to keep the game close throughout the second half with 13 game ties and 20 lead changes. If one of the teams were going to give in it looked more likely to be the Eaters.
While the 49ers were scoring easy buckets at the free-throw line and high percentage jump shots, the Eaters struggled to answer offensively.
With the game tied at 56 a piece, Cal State Long Beach went on an 8-0 run, never trailing for the rest of the game.
It was then damage control time for the Anteaters, who tried saving the game at the 3 point line; it looked like it might be possible courtesy of a Max Hazzard three-pointer. However, the ‘Eaters had no answer for Booker on defense, resorted to intentional fouls, and were punished at the free throw line.
The Anteaters just couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch, shooting an inefficient 39 percent from the field.
The ‘Eaters struggled to convert field goals all evening, shooting only 7-25 from three pointland the entire game. Only two players scored in double figures for the Anteaters, as Leonard finished with 16 and John Edgar Jr. finished with 11.
For Long Beach, the team had four different players finish in double figures, led by Deishuan Booker’s explosive performance of 28 points and six assists.
Key players such as Robert Cartwright struggled to contribute to the Eaters’ success, scoring only two points on 1-7 shooting from the field.
Despite the disappointing performance, the ‘Eaters also showed growth as a team. Graduate student Jonathan Galloway matched his career-high, 14 rebounds, while Evan Leonard had another good offensive performance with 16 points.
The final score, 80-70, concluded a Long Beach State victory, with UCI at 14-5 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
Forward Jonathan Galloway was disappointed with the team’s loss and remarked on the execution of the team’s strategy. “We don’t have to do anything differently, it’s just the way we do it. We just gotta pick up our energy; just have better focus. We just gotta execute our game plan even better, but we just didn’t go out there and do it.”
UCI faces off against Cal State Northridge, as they hit the road to a bounce-back performance in Matador territory.