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UCI Men’s Basketball Team Defeats UCSD in First Game of 2021

The UCI Men’s Basketball team reigned victorious against the UC San Diego Tritons, 79-65, in a non-conference matchup at UCSD’s RIMAC Arena on Saturday, Jan. 9. 

The Anteaters (6-4, 2-0) grabbed their first road win of the season and handed UCSD (2-1, 0-0) their first loss of the season.

Both teams struggled to find the hoop in the early minutes of the half and were evidently very rusty after coming back from their prolonged breaks. 

After almost two minutes of missed shots, the Tritons’ redshirt freshman guard, Jace Roquemore, was able to complete a jumper to make the score 0-2.

The San Diego team went on a 4-0 scoring run while the Anteaters fumbled on the court, missing all attempted shots for the first four minutes of the half. After several stumbling plays and offensive mix-ups, the Anteaters fought to stay in the game while UCSD attempted to profit off of their mistakes. 

The Anteaters’ Head Coach Russel Turner benched his entire starting lineup in hopes to change the team dynamic in order to get some points on the board. 

Fortunately for the ‘Eaters, a foul was called on Triton senior forward Hugh Baxter, which gave UCI’s freshman guard, DJ Davis, the opportunity to get the first 2 points for his team from the free-throw line.

Soon after, Gabe Hadley sank the first three-pointer of the night giving the Tritons an even greater lead at 7-2.

Nearly two whole minutes went by with neither team able to find the basket. Both coaches on the sidelines were visibly frustrated at their teams’ 2021 debut performances.

San Diego was able to go on another 0-4 scoring run for the following minute or so while the Anteaters attempted to regain possession.

After a foul was called on Baxter yet again, redshirt junior forward Collin Welp was able to get two more points for his team at the free-throw line, making the score 4-11.

Both teams again struggled to find the basket until UCI’s sophomore forward, Dean Keeler, secured the first field goal for the Anteatersafter almost eight minutes of missed attempts. Up until this point the ‘Eaters were at 0-7 from the floor.

Suddenly a spark ignited both teams as they were able to come out of their shooting slump. UCSD’s junior forward Toni Rocak, gained two back-to-back lay ups while UCI’s freshman guard Dawson Baker, who has led the ‘Eater team this season in scoring, completed one making the score 8-15.

Baker averages at 12 points per game and has made a name for himself already despite his recent collegiate debut. With 10 minutes left in the half, Baker secured a layup and decreased the scoring gap for UCI, 10-15.

UCI’s freshman guard, Andre Henry, gained two more points at the line as the Anteaters inched their way back into the game at 12-15.

A timeout was called by the UCI team after over a minute of missed shots and messed up plays.

Even after the timeout, both teams still struggled to maintain their strategy plays. Like the previous minutes, both teams had issues with finding their shot. With jumpers falling every so often, many points came from either inside the paint or the free-throw line. 

Baker kept the ‘Eaters close. He again came out firing with a secured jump shot to shorten the gap with a score of 16-18 with only 5:36 minutes left of the first half.

Both teams picked up the pace once they exchanged jumpers. Dawson again got two more points for his team to tie the score at 20-20 for the first time of the night.

After an Anteater timeout, Triton redshirt freshman guard Bryce Pope sprouted the lead back for the Tritons at 20-25.

The teams kept trading blows, keeping the game close on the line, through jumpers and drawing contact in the paint. To end the first half, Hadley was called on a foul which gave Welp a chance at the charity stripe. Before going into the final half of the match, the Anteaters trailed, 24-28.

Both teams came out very rusty in the first half of the game. UCI shot an average of 29% which was shocking to see for a team whose average is usually in the high 40s. UCSD was also sluggish coming into the night’s match; however, they were able to complete more shots than UCI.

UCSD opened the second half of the night by completing a three-pointer, increasing the lead 31-24.

Although trailing for most of the game, the Anteaters’ resolve was strong. Gaining more energy as the half went by, the team climbed out of their scoring drought. By making rebounds, and getting shooters to open and take smart shots, UCI made Tritons’ momentum begin to slip. After missing three back-to-back three-point attempts, UCI took the opportunity to come back as a foul was called on San Diego’s Roquemore.

With two completed free throws by sophomore guard, Isaiah Lee, the Anteaters tied for the second time of the night at 31-31.

Pope then secured another jump shot for San Diego giving him 12 points this game and handing the lead back to the Tritons at 31-33. However, he was called on a foul shortly after which gave Keeler the chance to tie the game back up. However, Keeler only completed one of the two free throws allowing the Tritons to keep a one-point lead for the time being.

The Tritons’ lead was short. The Anteaters quickly answered back with a barrage of jumpers which invigorated Davis. He secured 5 of 5 three-point shots which skyrocketed the UCI score to 61-44 with less than nine minutes left in the game.

UCSD attempted to take back the lead with 2 back-to-back threes, and a jumper decreasing the gap to 62-54.

The Anteaters kept their momentum throughout the rest of the game. 

The Anteaters outmatched the Tritons as they continuously sank three-pointers and drew fouls inside the paint. The Tritons were able to return some points but they ultimately could not match UCI’s explosive energy. 

With less than a minute left in the game, redshirt freshman guard Justin Hohn and Baker completed a couple of layups for UCI just before Pope secured the last two points of the night for the Tritons to end the game at 79-65. 

Somehow, the Anteaters were able to make a massive comeback in the second half of the game. The game was primarily led by Davis, who scored a career-high 23 points, 19 of which came from the second half. 

In the post-game interview, Turner commented on how he thought his team performed tonight in the first half of the game.

“We looked like a nervous, scared, uneasy team and that’s on me … I didn’t do a good enough job getting them ready obviously,” Turner said.

This was the Anteaters’ first game in nearly two weeks. Their two-game Big West series against CSUN, originally to be played on Jan. 1-2, was canceled due to COVID-19 precautions. The Anteaters’ prepared to face UC Davis on Jan. 8-9, until that series was canceled because of UCD’s compliance with Yolo County’s health and safety ordinances. 

A two-game set with UCSD was scheduled as a non-conference meeting which meant that outcomes did not affect their conference records despite both schools being Big West members. The first game on Jan. 8 was postponed in light of a UCSD player exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. UCI and UCSD will meet again for their originally scheduled conference series on Feb. 26-27. 

The Anteaters will resume their Big West schedule and play at home against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Jan. 22-23 at 4 p.m.

 
Gina Johnson is a staff writer. She can be reached at ginaj@uci.edu.