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UCI Men’s Basketball Victorious in Home Opener Against New Mexico State 91-74

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The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (1-1) won their home opener against New Mexico State (1-2) 91-74 at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, Nov. 11.

After a disappointing loss in the season opener at San Jose State, the Anteaters turned it around at home in convincing fashion. In particular, senior guard Andre Henry led the Anteaters in scoring with 19 points. 

The game started the Aggies’ way with two successful floaters in the lane by senior guard Brandon Suggs and senior guard Jordan Rawls. However, the Anteater defense tightened up with a series of forced turnovers and stops. 

A steal by senior guard Andre Henry led to an easy two points for UCI, and fifth-year guard Pierre Crockrell II followed up the defensive stands with two flashy assists. The first assist, a no-look dish to Henry for a backdoor layup, followed by a nice inbound lob to junior center Bent Leuchten for an easy two in the paint. With this, the buckets gave UCI a 10-6 lead five minutes into the game. 

UCI’s second unit was featured prominently in both halves, playing well and building on the lead that the five in the starting line-up got in the early minutes. Leading them was freshman guard Derin Saran, scoring 10 points. 

After the game, UCI head coach Russell Turner complimented Saran’s attributes that make him fit in well with the team’s offense. 

“He’s a strong and physical guard who can get shots,” Turner said in an interview with the New University. “He is good from the perimeter and a good offensive basketball player. He’s smart and competitive, and I’m excited about the growth from him.”

Junior center Bent Leuchten was a menace on the offensive glass for the Anteaters, grabbing three offensive rebounds. He also showed his defensive presence by adding three blocks. 

Redshirt senior guard Justin Hohn stepped up on the defensive end for the ‘Eaters, recording three steals of which two led to easy fastbreak points.

Fifth-year forward Dean Keeler made his impact known off the bench with some nice post work for a hook shot over his defender. Later on in the half, he finished strong in the paint for the bucket while getting fouled, giving him an extra free throw opportunity, which he converted, stretching the Anteater lead further.

The defensive pressure and heavy shooting percentage sent UCI into the second half with a 49-37 lead over the Aggies. Redshirt junior forward Devin Tillis led the Anteaters in scoring with nine points, shooting 3-5 from the field. Meanwhile, junior guard Jaden Harris led the Aggies with 10 points off the bench. 

UCI made an impressive 50% of their shots from the field in the first half, but they looked to improve at the free throw line, going only 13-19 from the charity stripe. Coming out of the second half, it was all Henry on the offensive side for the ‘Eaters, as he converted two quick threes to extend the UCI lead. Tillis joined in on the action with a trey from atop the key to stretch the Anteater lead to 62-42. 

The UCI lead dwindled in the twilight of the game, but they still never led by less than 10 points, allowing the Anteaters to run away with a 91-74 lead at the end of the game. 

After the game, Coach Turner explained what he thought the team did differently this game in comparison to the season opening loss to San Jose State. 

“We shot the ball better from three, we got a lot [of] better shots due to patience and teamwork,” Turner said. “We learned a lot from that San Jose State game where we didn’t play well.” 

The Anteaters followed up the win with a huge 70-60 victory over #16 USC on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at Galen Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Miguel Rodriguez is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at miguer9@uci.edu.