The UCI Anteaters men’s basketball team defeated Long Beach State 70-55 in a Big West Conference rivalry battle on Feb. 19 at the Bren Events Center.
The Anteaters (18-10, 10-2) came in looking for revenge against the Beach (9-18, 4-7). The two teams met on Jan. 22 in Long Beach where the Anteaters lost 63-56.
“We looked at this opponent with respect because they beat us wire-to-wire in the last matchup. But, we also looked at this match [more] critically than the first time to see what we can do better,” Turner said about how the Anteaters prepared for the game.
The opening tip was won by UCI senior Tommy Rutherford against LBSU freshman Joshua Morgan in front of an electric atmosphere.
Both teams played tight man-to-man defense, resulting in a scoreless first two minutes. UCI senior Eyassu Worku finally opened the scoring with a layup. On defense, UCI senior Evan Leonard stole the ball from Long Beach and scored an easy layup to go up 4-0. Leonard and Worku both finished the game with 15 points.
Long Beach got on the board four and a half minutes into the game with a jump shot by sophomore Chance Hunter. Head coach Dan Monson’s defensive strategy for his team was to hinder the Anteaters ability to move the ball into the paint.
With the score tied at 8-8, the Anteaters came out of a timeout with energy. Worku stole the ball from Long Beach and drove to the basket for another point in transition. UCI freshman Isaiah Lee finished a possession with a three pointer bringing the crowd to their feet. The Anteaters played solid defense forcing Long Beach to take highly contested shots.
After a scoreless six minutes, Long Beach converted back-to-back three pointers thanks to freshman Max de Geest and sophomore Michael Carter III. Carter — who finished with 16 points — energized Long Beach.
At the half, the Anteaters led only by 26-23. The team needed to find a way to penetrate their opponent’s defense and to continue winning rebounds. UCI redshirt junior Brad Greene was scoreless in the first period.
“We moved the ball and were able to move the defense side to side, which makes it easier to penetrate and to get passes inside. Also, I think our bigs were more aggressive,” Rutherford said. He led the team with 16 points while grabbing nine rebounds.
The Anteaters came out of the break flying. They started on a 10 point scoring run, reinvigorating the crowd. Rutherford took advantage of a costly mistake by Long Beach as two players toppled over each other. This gave him the opportunity for a wide-open dunk.
Greene opened his scoring night with a spin move to a dunk. With his back to the basket, Greene received a pass from the wing into the paint on his right. Just as LBSU’s Morgan tried to intercept the ball, Greene spun to his right giving him a wide open basket for a dunk. In three minutes, the score was 36-23.
Long Beach got some rhythm from successful jump shots by Carter. They drew key offensive fouls against the Anteaters. UCI’s Leonard was called for an offensive foul turning the ball over to Long Beach. Rutherford gathered the team at midcourt to regain composure.
“Having those together moments and making sure that we are right after a play like that, those are championship qualities that are sometimes overlooked,” Rutherford said. “Little things like that can make a huge difference in a game just composing ourselves after a couple bad plays.”
UCI freshman Jeron Artest failed to convert on two quick three point attempts, Coach Turner was visibly upset. In the next possession, Artest made a driving layup with two LBSU big men in way. The next time with the ball, Artest used his shot fake to buy him more time to get the ball in the paint where the Anteaters got fouled. Coach Turner stressed that these moments of learning are important for his freshman.
“I love the intensity components he [Artest] brings. But, sometimes he makes freshman mistakes like all of our freshman,” said Turner. “We rely on performances from those guys especially when we need to play three games in three days. Those guys’ roles are critical and we just got to keep getting better.”
Long Beach made a comeback bid by going on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 56-49. They found success in playing their traditional transition style basketball. This requires moving the ball on offense up the court quickly. This year, however, Long Beach plays a possession based style which focuses on maintaining the ball until the best shot is available.
A switch to zone defense by the Anteaters slowed Long Beach down. This worked in the Anteaters’ favor as it took off precious seconds from the clock while not allowing Long Beach to convert on any chances.
Still hoping for a win, Long Beach quickly drove the ball down the court where senior Jordan Griffin scored back-to-back three pointers. It was not enough for Long Beach as the Anteaters kept tight on defense the rest of the way. Greene grabbed his 11th rebound of the game to seal the victory.
The Anteaters clinch a berth in the Big West Conference Tournament happening from March 12 to March 14 at the Honda Center. They will defend their conference title in order to book a return trip back to March Madness.
The Anteaters played at CSU Northridge on Saturday, Feb. 22 and won 87-64. The annual Homecoming game will be on Feb. 29 against UCSB.
Christopher Piazza is a Sports Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.