That’s one word to describe the atmosphere at the Honda Center Saturday night. The Titans men’s basketball team was trying to do something that it hadn’t done since 2008 (win a Big West Tournament and earn an invitation into the national tournament) and the students, faculty and fans were all there to support them.
With close wins against Long Beach and UC Davis on Thursday and Friday, there were some doubters that thought this run was “too good to be true.”
I heard the words myself.
“I don’t know. I want it to happen, but I don’t know.”
“I’m nervous. Can they really do it?”
Yes, they can.
They did, en route to a 71-55 commanding win over UC Irvine.
There was one thing that was evident when the team took the court for warm-ups. Their confidence was high.
They had a little bit more hop in their jumps and a little bit more swagger in their steps.
But their jitters seemed to takeover in the early minutes, as they missed their first five shots, but that quickly faded. Soon, they found themselves out to a 10-point lead over their Orange County rivals.
However, UCI battled back and took the lead late in the first half 23-22. That wouldn’t last for long, as the Titans soon regained the lead 29-25 heading into halftime.
But the second half was all Titans basketball.
The team came out firing and never trailed, despite UCI getting within three points. It seemed as if any time the Titans needed a basket, they got it.
Rebounds fell into their hands, the defense executed and Kyle Allman Jr. or Khalil Ahmad found a way to score.
Allman Jr., the tournament MVP, led all scorers with 26 points, with Ahmad close behind with 23. When two of your starters combine for 49 points, you know it’s going to be a good night.
And a good night it was. The team looked relaxed and more importantly, they looked like there were having fun. Ahmad seemed to be smiling ear-to-ear the entire game, often showing off his signature “telephone” after each basket.
He was phoning it in often as he went 9-of-21, with three 3-pointers.
On the defensive end, the Titans were led by Davon Clare and Arkim Robertson who had seven and six rebounds respectively.
Saturday’s victory gives the Titans 20 wins so far on the year, making it the most by the men’s basketball team since 2011-2012, when that team won 21 games. This team hopes to match that mark against Purdue (28-5) on Thursday, whom they will face in the first round at 9 a.m. PST in Detroit.
Although the team is happy thus far with their success, they’re not satisfied. They’ll be looking to win their first tournament game since 1978, when that team won in the first two rounds, advancing to the regional final where they eventually lost to Arkansas.
Good luck in Detroit. Get that “W”.