UCI Men’s Basketball Prevails in Late Comeback Win Against CSU Fullerton, 70-65

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Photo provided by UCI Athletics

The UCI Men’s Basketball team (11-5, 4-0) won against the California State University Fullerton Titans (9-8, 3-2), 70-65, at the Bren Events Center on Jan. 11.

Spectacular performances from UCI junior guards Dawson Baker and DJ Davis were crucial for the Anteaters’ comeback win. In the final nine minutes, Baker put up 15 points and Davis hit a timely three-pointer to give UCI the edge.

In the first half, both teams were shockingly inefficient. UCI consistently struggled around the rim, missing four layups and shooting 1-9 from three. Similarly, CSU Fullerton had similar shooting woes, going 2-8 from three. Both teams were shooting at around 37% from the field. Despite both teams’ inefficient first half numbers, the ‘Eaters came away with two silver linings: UCI still scraped together a two-point lead, 27-25, and DJ Davis was keeping the ‘Eaters in the game with an efficient 10 points at the break.

However, as the second half began, things got worse for the ‘Eaters.

With 12 minutes on the clock, CSU Fullerton senior guard Tory San Antonio received the ball at the top of the key and attacked the middle, forcing the defense to collapse. In a devastating maneuver, he kicked the ball out to the corner, instantly found the ball again at the three-point line and drained a three.

San Antonio finished the night as the Titans’ leading scorer with 17 points, shooting a staggering 80% (4-5) from three. San Antonio’s three sparked a 10-3 run, netting CSU Fullerton a 10-point lead with 8:56 remaining in the game. 

UCI, desperate for scoring, found refuge in their star guard, Baker. Baker, who was 0-3 from the field and only had two points in the first half, finally drilled a three to get UCI back into the game and cut the deficit to 40-47.

After a 7-2 run in favor of UCI, Dawson continued his second half heroics. In a play that was nothing short of phenomenal, he received the ball on the wing, sent his defender flying with a pump fake, euro stepped into the paint, collided with CSU Fullerton senior forward Vincent Lee, and miraculously flicked the ball into the net for a three-point play while falling.

After Dawson’s freethrow, the score was 49-47 in UCI’s favor. Despite this, CSU Fullerton would not go away quietly. Immediately after, San Antonio instantly drilled one of his four threes of the night. 

At the four-minute mark, the score stood at 55-54 with Fullerton in possession of the ball and a chance to expand their lead. However, UCI redshirt junior guard Justin Hohn, who had been crucial in scoring off the bench, deflected the ball at the top of the key, allowing UCI to gain possession and providing an opportunity for the ‘Eaters to regain the lead. 

On the offensive end, UCI transfer sophomore forward Devin Tillis backed down and sent Fullerton star San Antonio tumbling for an easy layup. San Antonio was then called for a technical foul for flopping, giving Davis a technical free throw attempt for UCI. He drilled it, putting the ‘Eaters up 57-55 with only 3:27 left to play. 

As the time dwindled down to 2:19, Tillis fought for position under the basket and pulled down a one-handed rebound over Fullerton’s 6-foot-8 forward Lee. Tillis then sent the ball flying up the court to Hohn, who found Davis on the right side of the court. Davis proceeded to let a 33-foot three-pointer fly, banking it in and sending the Bren into a frenzy.

At 63-57, this was UCI’s biggest lead of the night, and it proved to be an insurmountable deficit for the Titans to overcome. The ‘Eaters ended the game with a hard-fought 70-65 victory.

After the game, UCI head coach Russell Turner reflected on the team’s first half struggles.

“I said to the team at halftime, we missed open threes, we missed layups and we missed free throws and we’re still up two points. I thought our defense in the first half was excellent, we just didn’t score many points.” 

Turner summarized the team’s second half successes by applauding his team’s effort on both ends of the floor.

”We changed the game with some really strong offensive performances … and overall really good effort and execution combination in our zone.”

With the win, the Anteaters improve to 4-0 in Big West conference play.

Jason Garcia Escobar is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at jasonag3@uci.edu.

Zeke Bellino is a Sports Intern for the winter 2023 quarter. He can be reached at zbellino@uci.edu