Saturday, May 18, 2024

UC Irvine men’s basketball clamps down on CSUN

Must read

NORTHRIDGE — UC Irvine was missing a big piece of its team in 7-footer Bent Leuchten on Saturday afternoon. But with the right adjustments, the Anteaters continued their unbeaten start to Big West Conference play with a 71-57 victory over Cal State Northridge.

The Anteaters scored 40 points in the paint and 19 points off turnovers to pull away in the second half and leave an actively rebuilding CSUN team shell-shocked at Premier America Credit Union Arena.

“We have to adjust and not just be entitled and hunt for what we want,” UCI coach Russell Turner said. “We’ve got to make the reads that lead to different things being available. We did that tonight.”

UCI held CSUN to 34.8% shooting while connecting on 52.8% of its shots.

The Anteaters’ Devin Tillis recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Dawson Baker and JC Butler each finished in double digits with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

UCI (12-5 overall, 5-0 Big West) was without Leuchten, its third-leading scorer, for the second consecutive game. The sophomore, who was named Big West Player of the Week on Jan. 9, four days after scoring 31 points against UC Davis, did not travel with the team due to a meniscus tear.

Turner did not offer a timetable for Leuchten’s return, but he is optimistic the German center will be back soon. Playing without Leuchten’s physical presence showed Turner what his team is capable of.

“The experience that we’re gonna get for the other guys while he’s out,” Turner said, “learning to play differently than what we were playing so well with him, I think can be good for us as the season goes on.”

The Anteaters jumped out to an 8-0 start just two minutes into the game. Tillis hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring, then Baker went in for a layup within the first 40 seconds.

The Matadors (3-14, 0-6) recovered to trail by only three midway through the first half. Outrebounding the Anteaters early, CSUN took a 19-18 lead on Dearon Tucker’s jumper.

“They caught us sleepwalking a little bit,” Butler said. “We just had to get our act together and finish the game.”

The advantage was fleeting. DJ Davis drained a 3-pointer on UCI’s next possession. The Anteaters went on to hold a 32-27 lead at the break despite an Atin Wright 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.

“We’ve been in every game this year except for maybe two or three,” Matadors coach Trent Johnson said. “I’ve got a fragile team, but the kids have got to stay together and they’ve gotta keep working.”

The Anteaters navigated the court with ease in the second half. Tillis made a quick pass to Pierre Crockrell II with 11 minutes left and, seemingly without thinking, Crockrell flicked a jumper that gave UCI a 10-point lead. The advantage grew by as many as 16 points on Dean Keeler’s layup with 6:56.

Johnson is in his second year as head coach at CSUN, which is still putting the pieces together. Three players scored in double digits Saturday – Wright (14 points), De’Sean Allen-Eikins (14 points) and Tucker (12 points, nine rebounds).

“I’ve been at the top, I’ve been in the middle, I’ve been at the bottom,” Johnson said. “If we continue to fight, continue to grow, we’ll get better.”

The Anteaters return home to continue Big West play against fellow conference frontrunner UC Santa Barbara on Monday. CSUN plays Monday at Hawai’i.

More articles

Latest article