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HomeSportsBasketballUCI Dances Past Long Beach in Homecoming Game, 82-61 

UCI Dances Past Long Beach in Homecoming Game, 82-61 

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The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (22-8, 15-3) dominated Long Beach State (18-12, 10-8) 82-61 in a nationally televised rematch at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, March 2. The home team made sure to make a statement against their rivals on Homecoming night. The two teams met previously on Jan. 25, in which the Anteaters beat the Sharks 72-61

Fifth-year guard Pierre Crockrell II controlled the tempo early on, racing down and finding redshirt senior guard Justin Hohn for a transition triple. Crockrell II finished the game with an identical stat line to his previous matchup against CSULB, notching a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists. Hohn also had an excellent performance out on the perimeter, finishing with 13 points which included three triples from deep. 

Long Beach managed to hang around at the start, with junior forward Lassina Traore connecting on two mid-range jumpers. Traore ended the game with a game-high 16 rebounds. Senior guard Marcus Tsohonis flashed his self-creation ability by spinning into a touch shot, knocking in his only two points of the half.

With both teams searching for momentum, Crockrell II brought the crowd to its feet after diving over the Long Beach bench to save a loose ball, with the second chance opportunity leading to two freethrows from freshman forward Carter Welling. 

UCI freshman guard Derin Saran continued to push the pace for Coach Russell Turner’s squad, delivering a no-look bounce pass in transition to redshirt senior guard Ofure Ujadughele for the layup. Saran decided to take it coast-to-coast himself on the next play, converting in the right-handed flip shot. Saran had a quiet shooting night but made his contributions felt nonetheless, snagging eight rebounds and three steals. 

Fifth-year forward Dean Keeler helped catapult the Anteaters to a 17-10 lead with his play on both ends. He met Long Beach sophomore guard AJ George and Traore at the rim for an emphatic two-block sequence. On the offensive side of the ball, he got on the board after finishing the pocket pass from graduate student guard Dylan Thoerner.

Cal State Long Beach junior guard Jadon Jones did what he could to keep his team in the contest in the first half by scoring 12 points, including two from deep. The Anteaters shut him out in the second half, as ball denial from Crockrell II and senior guard Andre Henry limited the effectiveness of Jones. 

The half ended with the ‘Eaters managing a 12-point 43-31 lead and Long Beach sticking around despite the field goal percentage differential, 27% to 50%.

When the contest resumed, UCI junior center Bent Leuchten started it off hot, drilling in the three off of the pass from redshirt junior forward Devin Tillis. CSULB responded, with junior forward Aboubacar Traore grabbing an offensive rebound and finding George backdoor for the two-handed flush. Crockrell II ripped the ball from Jones and delivered a lookaway dime to Tillis for an and-one opportunity. 

UCI struggled with foul trouble in the second half, with Long Beach managing to get in the bonus early on. Tsohonis got back in rhythm in the period, scoring a flurry of baskets that helped the Sharks cut into the ‘Eater lead. A loose ball found itself in the hands of the conductor Crockrell II, who dumped it off to the Welling Express for the jam, which brought the crowd back to its feet and forced a timeout from CSULB. 

Coach Turner elected to run a lot of double big lineups featuring Welling and Keeler, matching their rival’s physicality on the boards and dominating overall with their size. Keeler converted another basket off his own miss, ending the game with nine points. On the next trip down, Tsohonis drilled a three off the assist from junior guard Isa Silva. Thoerner answered with a triple of his own, shooting it from the same spot he had missed on the prior possession. 

With both teams locking down defensively in the second half, it was up to Crockrell II to find an answer to the ensuing Long Beach runs, and he delivered. Controlling the rock, Crockrell II froze the Long Beach big man with a hesitation move into a left-handed scoop finish. He then found Keeler in the post, taking advantage of the size edge for the post hook. 

A huge Irvine three pushed the lead up to 14, with Hohn connecting off the feed from Tillis.  Long Beach sprung into a press with 4:30 remaining, but they were unable to make any more runs to cut into the Anteater lead. UC Irvine won the game, 82-61, and also won the assist battle 20-12, a testament to the underlying teamwork and unselfishness of Coach Turner’s squad. 

Crockrell II reflected on his playmaking display after the game.

“I have a really good knack and feel for the game when it comes to passing,” Crockrell II said in an interview with the New University. “I have to give all the credit to my teammates for finishing the play because without them there is no assist.”

Coach Turner reflected on this message.

“He’s the ultimate team player and point guard that makes others better,” Turner said. “Not just with his passing but with his presence.” 

Coach Turner also shared his thoughts on the upcoming Big West tournament. 

“It’s March. We know the stakes are highest now,” Turner said. “We’ve got to compete like crazy to win the Big West tournament.”

With yet another home win, UC Irvine moves a step closer to winning the Big West Conference regular season title at 15-3 and remains undefeated (12-0) at home in the Bren. Next up for the Anteaters is a bout with CSU Fullerton on Saturday, March 9 at 6pm at the Titan Gym in Fullerton, CA. 

Jaden Hunter is a Sports Intern for the winter 2024 quarter. He can be reached at 

Edited by Phillip Lemus, Jeanette Wallis, and Laiyla Santillan