Second Half Slump Plagues Tritons on Spirit Night


Luke Reyes

On Thursday, UC San Diego men’s basketball (8–15, 3–8 Big West) hosted UC Irvine (15–7, 8–2 Big West) at LionTree Arena for Spirit Night 2023. The Tritons entered the night looking to bounce back from a loss to UC Riverside while also hoping to kickoff the month of February on a strong note after a rough stretch in January. Meanwhile, the Anteaters entered the match with their eyes set on improving their winning record and keeping their solid standing near the top of the Big West Conference. 

UC Irvine opened the first half with great energy, going on a 7–0 run within the first two and a half minutes and forcing UCSD to take an early timeout. The timeout proved to be beneficial for the Tritons, as they were able to come back and tie the game at 16 at around the halfway mark. The movement was very fluid early on, with each team seemingly in great form right at the start of the matchup. After tying, UCSD went on to outscore UC Irvine 21–17 in the remaining minutes of the half. Much of the heavy lifting done for the Tritons on the offensive end was through sophomore forward Francis Nwaokorie, who scored 13 first half points, including three 3-point field goals. Other scoring contributions included redshirt junior guard Bryce Pope, who had 8 first half points with two 3-pointers made, and freshman guard Roddie Anderson III, who concluded the half with 6 points. Despite the slow start, the Tritons retaliated with strong play and got on a roll that sent them into halftime up 37–33. 

Early in the second half, UCSD was able to tack onto their lead by going on an 8–5 run within the first four minutes, leading 45–38 with 16:12 remaining in the game. However, in just a little over two minutes, the Anteaters erased the Tritons’ biggest lead of the game as they went on a 10–0 run to retake the lead at 48–45, off of a 3-pointer by their junior guard DJ Davis. The Tritons completely lost their momentum which had been bolstered by a boisterous crowd, but would look to come back to regain it. The game remained fairly neck and neck in the ensuing minutes as the Tritons were able to keep the game within striking distance, but UC Irvine ultimately took the game over, as they went on a dominant 24–7 run with under nine minutes remaining in the half. The Tritons went cold from the field as they missed 19 of their last 22 field goal attempts. The Anteaters came away victorious in the end, winning the game 76–60 and playing the role of spoiler on UCSD’s Spirit Night. 

The big story of the game was the difference in field goal shooting between both ball clubs. The Anteaters shot 44.8% from the field by the end of the game and 48% in the second half. The Tritons shot under 30% from the field in the second half, bringing their team field goal percentage down to 35% on the game after shooting a respectable 43% in the first half. The Tritons also shot under 50% from the free throw line, going 7–15 while UC Irvine shot 90% from the charity stripe, going 9–10. UC Irvine’s junior guard Dawson Baker and UCSD’s Francis Nwaokorie led all scores with 18 apiece. One of the positives UCSD was able to take away from this game was how they were able to match the amount of players UC Irvine had in double figures with three. UC Irvine’s ability to clean up their mistakes and reach a higher gear simply proved the difference in a mostly even game. 

Despite the loss, the night still had many high moments with all of the activities that students participated in for Spirit Night. The Triton Tide Fan Fest began an hour before tipoff outside of the arena, and Revelle College won this year’s Cup of Cheer. The first thousand fans in attendance also received a free t-shirt. During halftime, a student representative from each of the seven colleges played in a game of musical chairs, in which each student would have to dribble in a circle at halfcourt then run to the nearest hoop and make a layup. When the music stopped playing, they would then have to run back and sit in one of the chairs before their opponents could make it back. Eleanor Roosevelt College won the musical chairs competition, and a lucky student won a gift card to Woodstock Pizza for making a layup, free throw, and 3-pointer in a timed skills challenge. 

The Tritons will travel to Honolulu and take on the University of Hawaii on Thursday, Feb. 9, and will be back at home on Wednesday, Feb. 15, where they will take on California State University, Fullerton. 

Image Courtesy of Vince Hilahan of the UCSD Guardian