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UCI Survives Late Scare to Remain Undefeated at Home vs UCSB, 81-69

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The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (20-7, 13-2) defeated the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (14-12, 7-9) 81-69 at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 22. With the win, the Anteaters improve to 11-0 at home and post their ninth 20-win season under head coach Russell Turner. Redshirt senior guard Justin Hohn led the Anteaters on the night with 19 points.

The stifling Anteater offense forced reigning Big West Conference Player of the Year, UCSB junior guard Ajay Mitchell, into two early fouls, causing the Gauchos to sit their star player for a good point of the first half. 

UCI shot poorly in the first few minutes, seeing many of their drives into the paint clanking off the rim. Fifth-year guard Pierre Crockrell II got his first assist of the night through a tight window to Hohn. Senior guard Andre Henry tied up the score 10-10 with a slick pump fake, into a mid-range jumper. 

The Anteater offense forced an early UCSB timeout after a no-look pass from Crockrell II found a wide open freshman forward Carter Welling for an emphatic dunk. This sent the crowd of 3,272 fans into a frenzy, giving the ‘Eaters their first lead of the night at 12-10.

UCI redshirt sophomore guard Langston Redfield joined in on the fun with a bounce pass leading to another Welling dunk. A steal from graduate guard Dylan Thoerner gave way to a vintage coast-to-coast layup for freshman guard Derin Saran, who finished it off the bucket with a clean euro step around the defense. Fifth-year forward Dean Keeler kept the Anteater momentum going with a post hook on the offensive end and stiff defense on the other end. 

After a tough start to the game, UCSB sophomore forward Yohan Traore connected on a tough and-one bucket, resulting in three points for the Gauchos, cutting the deficit to two. Crockrell II answered with a signature pull-up jumper from the free-throw line. The ‘Eaters followed it up with a Crockrell II dish for a Hohn three-pointer in transition, to give the ‘Eaters a seven point lead.

Saran took things into his own hands, leaping over the UCSB forwards to grab the defensive rebound, then he hit a baseline pass to Thoerner who converted the wide-open three. More fireworks ensued, this time with Hohn hitting an and-one three of his own, extending the lead to 42-27. UCI went on a roll early and never let up, going into the half with an impressive 46-29 lead.


Hohn started off the second half with a bang by sitting down his defender for an easy lay-in to increase the lead to 22 points, the largest of the game for the Anteaters. Redshirt junior forward Devin Tillis added to the pain by marching by four Gaucho defenders to the basket for a tough three-point play. 

However, this is where the comfort ended for the ‘Eaters. UCI hit a cold streak offensively, which saw the lead get cut down to as few as eight points. Luckily for the ‘Eaters, some fundamental basketball increased the Anteater margin, with mid-range jumpers from Crockrell II and Saran forcing his way to the line proving vital. 

With UCI leading UCSB 65-54 it was a battle on the free-throw line, with blows going back and forth between Traore and Saran. Henry made a tough drive into the paint to convert on a much needed and-one for UCI to get the lead back to double digits. 

Stiff defense was the theme of the final few minutes, with UCSB turnovers via steals or bad shots giving possession to the Anteaters. It was a poor three point night for both teams, as Irvine shot 3-12 from beyond the arc and UCSB a mere 6-15. UCSB committed to fouling as early as two and a half minutes remaining in the game as the Anteaters began to milk the clock. 

UCI junior center Bent Leuchten made an emphatic block on the defensive end, one of only two Irvine blocks in the game. Mitchell responded with a three-pointer off a screen to make it a two possession game with 46 seconds left, 75-69. 

The Anteaters held the Gauchos scoreless for the remainder of the game, knocking down free throws down the stretch, and putting on the exclamation point with a Henry fast-break dunk to seal the 81-69 victory.

The Anteaters lost their next game at the LionTree Arena against second place UC San Diego (19-9, 13-3) 92-88 in overtime on Saturday, Feb. 24.

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

Edited by James Huston, Andrea Garcia, and Laiyla Santillan