Photo by New University/Aasha Sendhi

The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (2-1) dominated La Verne (0-3), 100-41, in their second home game of the season at the Bren Events Center on Nov. 16.

The Anteaters started the game without starting sophomore guard Dawson Baker.

“He got hit early in the year and has a rib issue that is really painful,” UCI head coach Russell Turner explained. “We’re just being overly cautious with him.”

UCI commanded the first half, taking advantage of the height disparity between the two teams. A jumper in the paint by junior forward Austin Johnson placed UCI on the board to kick off the first half, 2-0. Following a dunk from Johnson and a layup from redshirt senior forward Collin Welp, UCI led 6-4 at 16:28.

After a minute and a half scoring drought, the ‘Eaters went on a 7-0 run, succeeding a layup from redshirt sophomore center Emmanuel Tshimanga. This was only to be broken by a freethrow from Leopard freshman guard Paul Antonis. UCI led 11-7.

La Verne was unable to match the momentum and energy the Anteaters put forth as they continuously lost possession of the ball and missed opportunities to score. Meanwhile, redshirt junior forward JC Butler, who led UCI with 18 points, scored six-consecutive points to jumpstart a 13-0 run for the Anteaters. This put UCI ahead 33-11 with six minutes remaining on the clock.

The Anteaters finished off the first half with a 15-2 run, featuring baskets from redshirt sophomore guard Justin Hohn and a dunk at the buzzer by freshman center Bent Leuchten. It was a tough first half for the Leopards as they shot 25% from the field — no match for UCI’s 62.16%. The two teams advanced to the second half with UCI in the lead, 50-15.

UCI began the second half lacking the defensive intensity they closed the first half with. As a result, La Verne nearly matched their first half offensive output by scoring 11 points in the first four minutes. A posterizing dunk from Johnson revitalized the ‘Eaters as they started a full court pressure on the Leopards.

From then on, La Verne struggled against UCI’s defense; the Anteaters were physical, had active hands and hustled for loose balls. They finished with 14 steals and held the Leopards to 33% shooting. Turner emptied the bench and 12 players managed to get into the scoring column at least once.

With the score at 97-41 in the final minute of the second half, UCI still applied full-court pressure on La Verne. A three-pointer from junior guard Isaiah Lee, who finished with eight assists, helped the ‘Eaters surpass the century mark; UCI won, 100-41.

UCI opted to go for size rather than speed in this matchup. Turner kept two bigs in the game at all times, which helped them dominate the paint with 80 points.

“We played against a team that was smaller,” Turner said. “I did think it was important for our big guys tonight to be dominant … The guys who we’re going to compete with to try to do the things we want are going to be bigger and more physical by a lot.”

Turner has made it known that he wants his team to be playing among elites when it is time for March Madness, and he looks to the next game against Pepperdine as preparation.

“I have not had success against [Pepperdine] during my time here,” Turner said. “Every non-conference opportunity is really important for us … in determining the seed we will get in the NCAA tournament if we can qualify.”

UCI will continue their stride and play the Santa Clara Broncos on Nov. 27 at the Leavey Center. 

Angus Wong is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at anguscw@uci.edu.

Harleen Thandi is a Sports Staff Writer. She can be reached at hthandi@uci.edu.