The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (12-7, 8-3) gained a win, 89-78, in the Titan Gymnasium against Cal State Fullerton (5-6, 4-6) in a captivating game on Feb. 19.
Coming off a win in their previous matchup against UC Riverside, the Anteaters looked to continue their winning streak. Unfortunately due to several cancellations of games, this was Fullerton’s first game in three weeks, which played to Irvine’s advantage.
Beginning with the first half, UCI started great, having the first possession after tip-off. Immediately, redshirt junior forward Collin Welp exemplified great defense taking rebounds, eliminating second chances of scoring for the Titans. On the offensive end, UCI’s freshman guard Dawson Baker was the first to score for the night, giving the Anteaters an early lead.
Defensively, the Anteaters forced turnovers upon the Titans. Within three minutes, the Titans gave up four turnovers and UCI capitalized with five points off of them. This was due to the forced baseline action endowed by UCI, which ultimately smothered any chance of Fullerton getting baskets.
Furthering the lead, sophomore guard Jeron Artest hit a three, bumping the Anteaters to 7 points around four minutes in the game. In response, Titan’s senior forward Josh Hall hit a mid-range jumper, being the first to score for CSUF. Alongside Hall, senior forward Johnny Wang kept the score close after hitting a three. UCI led 9-5 with 14 minutes left in the half.
Despite these attempts, UCI did a good job at cleaning the glass, along with strong defense which maintained their lead. Between Baker and redshirt senior guard Brad Greene fighting for the board, the Anteaters nearly possessed every rebound, extending their lead even further.
With the increased pace of UCI and the lack of execution in shooting for the Titans, the Anteaters managed to grasp a 14 point lead, 40-26, against the Titans by the end of the first half, shooting with a 42% accuracy on the court.
For nearly the first four minutes of the second half, UCI redshirt sophomore forward JC Butler exemplified extraordinary offense, extending the Anteater lead by twenty points, 49-29. As the game progressed to be one-sided in favor of Irvine, the Titans began to adapt to UCI’s level and gradually shortened the lead.
Within the last 15 minutes, Wang from the Titans managed to pull off four three-pointers, igniting their offense. In addition, redshirt freshman forward Doctor Bradley continued Wang’s momentum and was able to shorten the 20-point lead down to only eight, 68-60, with about eight minutes left.
With UCI in foul trouble, the Titans eventually tied the game after a massive three-pointer with five minutes on the clock, 71-71. Despite their efforts, especially from the defense of Greene, CSUF was able to completely recover from the 20-point lead.
With four and a half minutes left, Welp, Baker and freshman guard DJ Davis controlled the offense and regained UCI’s lead. As a result, UCI managed a 14-0 scoring run until Fullerton’s redshirt sophomore forward Vincent Lee’s dunk with 45 seconds left in the game.
Fullerton’s late surge was not enough against UCI’s dominant offense. UCI came out on top with a final score of 89-78.
UCI could not be slowed down as Baker led the team in scoring as he ended with a career-high of 23 points. Alongside Baker’s excellent offense, Welp finished with a double-double, 13 points and 11 rebounds.
In the post-game interview, UCI head coach Russel Turner commented on CSUF’s comeback and how the Anteaters responded.
“I’m really proud of the fact we stayed in it and won the game when things seemed to turn against us as strongly as they did,” Coach Turner said. “It’s hard to win on the road, it’s hard to win with a young team when the game seems unusual like it did. It is hard to win. And we found a way to win, so I am really pleased with that.”
With this in mind, Turner also commented on how Butler responded when the Anteaters needed to regain the lead. His execution was one of the major contributors in extending that lead once more.
“He was terrific,” Turner said. “We needed to get the ball from the rim in the first half and JC gave us some of that. I knew I needed to play him more in the second half and when I did that, he delivered. Looking at our roster, we do not finish well at the basket and we’ve got to improve that. But JC made layups at the rim, caused fouls on them, all of these things are critical.”
Turner went on to say how the team needs to execute crucial shots to maintain their lead permanently.
The Anteaters will look for another win against CSUF at the Titan Gymnasium on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 5 p.m.
Malia Nazario is a staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.