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UCI Men’s Basketball Falls to Pepperdine in Season Opener

UC Irvine Men’s Basketball, the reigning regular season Big West Champions, were defeated by the Pepperdine Waves 86-72 during the teams’ season opener at a multi-team event at Viejas Arena in San Diego State University on Wednesday, Nov. 25. 

The multi-team event, which included San Diego State and UCLA, did not allow in-person attendance. 

Pepperdine had beaten the Anteaters in the last four matchups, with their previous match going 77-73 in favor of the Waves. 

Led by Head Coach Russell Turner, the Anteaters return with 13 underclassmen and only two upperclassmen. The 2019-2020 Big West Sixth Man of the Year, junior Collin Welp, and last year’s conference leader in rebounds, senior Brad Greene, were named team captains prior to the beginning of the season. 

The game tipped off with Pepperdine controlling the jump ball. After a missed shot by Pepperdine junior forward Kessler Edwards, Greene grabbed his first of nine rebounds and scored a layup to put the Anteaters up 2-0, 

DJ Davis, an elite freshman from Moreno Valley, made his collegiate debut along with five other six Anteaters.

Both teams opened up playing a physical brand of basketball. With fouls being drawn as early as one minute into tip-off, Anteaters ended the first half with 10 fouls while the Waves ended with six.  

Despite Greene’s rebounding and scoring efforts, the Anteaters found themselves surrendering a respectable seven-point lead in the final six minutes of the half. The back and forth battle in the first half ended with Pepperdine up five points, 41-36.

“We folded up a little bit … I thought the last 6 minutes of the first half really was not good basketball from us,” Coach Turner said.

The Waves came out energized from the locker room, letting their momentum carry them into the beginning of the second half. They scored seven consecutive points against the Anteaters. On the other end, the Anteaters could not find their rhythm until two full minutes into the half with a three-pointer by Jeron Artest. 

Pepperdine seemed to be unphased and with about 15 minutes left on the clock, the Waves started breaking away after draining six more points increasing their lead to 54-39.

After a brief comeback attempt led by Welp, Pepperdine capitalized on the Anteaters’ missed shot attempts by going on a 7-0 run.

However, the Anteaters were hungry for a comeback and redshirt freshman Emmanuel Tshimanga stepped up for his team and secured a surprising three-pointer for the team. As a seven-foot center, no one was expecting Tshimanga to score from the three-point line, especially after coming off of an injury last year.

Coach Turner pointed out Tshimanga’s outstanding play.

“I was especially pleased with Emmanuel who worked his match really hard … I thought he was excellent … especially in his first college game,” Turner said. 

Tshimanga scored a total of seven points, making him Irvine’s fourth-highest scorer of the night tied with Davis. 

Unfortunately, a layup by Edwards saw the Waves balloon their lead to one of their largest margins of the afternoon at 20 points with the score at 65-45. Edwards would finish as the Waves’ highest scorer with 20 points and seven rebounds. 

With 10 minutes gone in the second half, the Anteaters were able to lessen the gap by getting physical as freshman guard Dawson Baker and Greene started accumulating points from layups and free throws. These two attempted to shift the team’s dynamic back to what it was in the first half. 

The Anteaters began emulating the dominant form that they had in the first half too late, as it was not enough to cut down Pepperdine’s 17 point lead. The game ended with a score of 86-72, with the Waves securing their fifth consecutive victory against the Anteaters.

Greene led the team in scoring with a total of 20 points, making this his new career-high. Baker, who played his first college game, was the second-highest scorer for the team with 13 points. Lastly, Collin Welp raked in a total of 11 points in the two halves.

During the post-game interview with Turner, it was evident that he was disappointed in his team’s performance during their season debut game. 

“I thought we played soft. We looked tentative, tired, some combination of things that seemed to me to be less competitive than what we need to be at this point in order to beat a team like Pepperdine,” Turner said. 

Despite the result for the team, this was an impressive Irvine debut for Baker. 

“[Baker] took the ball to the paint consistently,” Turner said. “He made good decisions [and] looked like a veteran guy. None of us were surprised about that because we’ve seen it over and over again in practice.”

Despite losing a tough game against the Waves tonight, Turner seems not only hopeful, but also grateful going into Friday’s game against San Diego State. 

“We got to charge ourselves back up and maybe get our spirit back for an opportunity to compete that we’re really grateful [for],” Turner concluded. 

The Anteaters look to bounce back in their next game on their matchup against San Diego State on Friday, Nov. 27. The Anteaters play their first home game at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m., which will be streamed live on BigWest.tv.  

Gina Johnson is a Sports Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at ginaj@uci.edu.