Domin-’Eaters Cruise to Win Over Roadrunners in First Round of Big West Tourney, 75-51

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Photo by Aasha Sendhil/Staff

The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (23-10, 16-5) defeated the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners (11-22, 6-15) 75-51 in the first round of the Big West Tournament Championships on Thursday, March 9 at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada.

It was a true team effort for the Anteaters, led by redshirt senior forward JC Butler with 13 points and redshirt sophomore forward Devin Tillis putting up 10, the only Anteaters to put up double digits in scoring.

The Irvine team started out hot with back-to-back threes from sophomore center Bent Leuchten and junior guard DJ Davis. Senior guard Pierre Crockrell II added a layup to give the Anteaters an early 8-2 advantage. To kick off UCI’s secondary squad, Butler netted a timely three and the ‘Eaters continued to extend their lead with a 7-2 run, 19-8. Another timely bucket from Butler upped him to eight points on the day and capped off a UCI 7-0 run to give them a 34-16 advantage with two minutes left in the half. The Anteaters excellent 58% (7-12) three-point percentage and 16 bench points in the first half propelled them to a big halftime lead, 36-18.

UCI started out the second half strong with a layup from Tillis and back-to-back threes from Davis to put the Anteaters advantage at 44-22. The Anteaters never looked back, showing no signs of slowing down, leading by as much as 30 points after a bucket from Tillis which capped off another big Anteater 12-2 run. The ‘Eaters finished the game 27-60 (58%) from the field, 11-19 (45%) from the three point line, 21 points off turnovers and 36 points off the bench. 

After the game, UCI head coach Russell Turner spoke about his team’s selflessness and community driven victory. 

“I was really pleased with my team’s unselfishness tonight,” Turner said. “Bakersfield really made a point of taking out [Davis and Baker] and that made those two guys make great decisions. [They] played unselfishly, played with patience and poise, and allowed other guys to really have great games.”

Turner also added how proud he was of Butler’s performance, especially in his final Big West Tournament as a senior. 

“He came in and showed his readiness almost immediately,” Turner said. “He was ready on both offense and defense.”

Butler added that prior to the game the team showed “just maybe a little bit more focus locking in because we knew what was in front of us.”

Tillis reflected on his performance throughout the game with a mild tone, aware that the job isn’t finished just yet.

“I would say I do a lot of things pretty good,” Tillis said, adding that “ …the shots were there and we’re gonna continue to take shots, Coach always says to shoot with confidence.”

Advancing in the championship, the ‘Eaters will face the winner of Hawai’i vs. Cal State Fullerton tomorrow at 6 p.m. 

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

James Huston is a Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.