By: Patreace Espiritu, CW
The Highlanders hosted the game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at the SRC Arena on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Not only was the visiting team the No. 1 seed in the Big West Conference Standings, they were also undefeated — until they stepped foot on Highlander territory. Defeating them with a final score of 64-59, the men’s basketball team is now 6-3 in their conference and 12-7 overall.
The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as the bleachers filled up and Scotty greeted everyone at the white out game. As the buzzer echoed off the walls, the Rainbow Warriors got the first possession, but a steal by graduate student guard Dominick Pickett allowed sophomore guard Wil Tattersall to cut through the opponent’s defense for a smooth layup to score the first point. The visiting team responded almost immediately with a 3-pointer, but the home team showed no signs of intimidation as Pickett and redshirt junior guard Flynn Cameron shot back-to-back threes from downtown. Not only did they chip the opponent’s lead to 7-14, but they also got Scotty to throw two white out shirts to the crowd to celebrate the 3-pointers.
The first half progressed with tension as both challengers locked in on the basket any chance they got. Redshirt junior center Callum Mcrae became a crowd favorite as he drew out cheers from the bleachers every time he scored from inside the paint. His towering frame made him unstoppable as he went to the rim and performed back-to-back layups to put the score 21-27. His presence on and off the court was prominent as head coach Mike Magpayo recalled that he “challenged us and our team to find him down low and our guys responded! Callum is as smart as they come so he is also self-aware and made adjustments to have a great game.” He eventually scored a season high of 19 points, with 12 of them made during the first half to lead the team.
The Rainbow Warriors led for most of the first half, but the Highlanders were relentless until the final buzzer. Junior guard Zyon Pullin slithered his way through the opponent’s defense just in time to end the first half with 30-32. They were down by as much as 11 points, but the home team managed to cut their lead to 2 points as they went into the second half of the game.
With the game underway, the crowd went wild as Pickett started the half with an explosive three to change the lead in their favor. They had an amazing defense to start as they thwarted the visiting team from scoring in the first 5 minutes. The Rainbow Warriors eventually ended their 7-0 run, but the Highlanders kept the momentum going as they did not let the lead extend for too long. Cameron shot two free throws to eventually tie the game with 49 all. His teammates took advantage of the tide as Pullin performed a jumper to extend their lead to 60-57, finishing the game with 19 points under his name. Redshirt sophomore guard Quinton Ford scored his first points and the final ones for the game as he shot two free throws to secure the win for the Highlanders.
Their win against the Rainbow Warriors was the cherry on top of an amazing night for the Highlanders. They had an amazing performance, with the starting lineup scoring a majority of the points for the team, with only 2 out of the 64 points from the bench. The team scored 44 points in the paint, double of what the opponents had. They also had a 49% field goal percentage and an incredible 91.7% on the free-throw line, sinking 11 out of the 12 shots. They were at the top of their game against the favored No. 1 seed in the Big West Conference and their win was proof of that.
Head Coach Magpayo expressed his pride and admiration for his team as they “truly believe they can compete with anybody. They love challenges and seem to rise to the challenge as shown all season.” He also conveyed his gratitude toward the fans that came in to support the team, stating that “the crowd was truly fantastic tonight and absolutely helped us get over the hump and provided the extra energy we needed.”
The UCR men’s basketball will be going up against UC Irvine on Feb. 10, 2022 at Bren Events Center. They are hoping to improve their record and log more wins to move up in the Big West Conference.