By: Stefan Curtis Jones
The UCI men’s basketball team extended their record against UCSD to 10-1 on Nov. 1 at the Bren Events Center.
This was a historic night for the 2019-2020 Anteaters as they unveiled their 2019 NCAA Tournament and Big West Conference Championship banners and also set a record for student attendance (2,038). Coming off their best record in school history last season (31-6), the Anteaters carried this energy into their inaugural game to kick off the 2019-2020 season.
After UCI won the tip-off, senior guard Eyassu Worku opened the floodgates early on and drained a three-pointer to put the Anteaters on the scoreboard. The Tritons responded with two hard fought layups that gave them their first lead of the game with a score of 4-3. UCI looked for more three-point opportunities by setting several high screens, which eventually led to senior forward John Edgar Jr. making the second three-point shot for UCI. UCSD’s redshirt senior center Chris Hansen returned the favor and made a three of his own, putting UCSD just five points behind UCI with 15:10 left in the first half.
Minutes later, Worku sprinted down the court and made space with a swift euro-step that allowed him to score. Although UCSD got plenty of inside-shot opportunities, they struggled to make wide-open layups in the first half. The Tritons attempted more shots from beyond the three-point line to try to get back on track. However, UCSD’s shots clanked off the side of the rim as they shot an abysmal 3-16 from three.
“Coming into the game, we knew they were a good three-point shooting team. That was definitely an emphasis in the game, to take away their threes” said UCI senior guard Evan Leonard when explaining how the Anteaters were able to fend off the flurry of three-point shots from the Tritons.
UCI was able to limit UCSD’s three-point attempts by out rebounding UCSD on defense 18-14. The Anteaters’ rebounding along with their 4-11 three-point shooting gave them the edge at the end of the first half with a score of 32-27.
Leonard continued UCI’s three-point onslaught as he made a heavily contested shot from the corner to start the second half. In the blink of an eye, the Anteaters went on a 15-9 scoring run that was created by a three from Edgar Jr., a block by senior forward Tommy Rutherford that led to a three and layups from both Leonard and Rutherford.
Leonard was at the forefront of UCI’s lead in the second half and his relentless effort in each play seemed to inspire his teammates, as freshman guard Isaiah Lee made a three and both Rutherford and sophomore forward JC Butler recorded a couple blocks. Redshirt sophomore Collin Welp of UCI also played an instrumental role in the team’s success in the second half, grabbing four rebounds and scoring seven points.
Towards the end of the game, freshman guard Jeron Artest got into foul trouble and expressed his frustrations for his play during his first collegiate game. Worku and Leonard noticed this and went to console him and provided support.
Being that out of the team’s 16 players, nine are freshmen, advice from experienced players could help inspire the team to maintain their success from the previous season.
“I try to give examples of things they might see out there that I know. It’s just a little different from high school to college and that’s a learning lesson out there for him,” said Leonard when asked about his veteran role on the team.
The Anteaters gave their home crowd a taste of what’s to come and will aim to continue this winning style as their regular season kicks off Tuesday, Nov. 5 against the University of San Diego.