SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Highlighted by four players with 10 or more points on the afternoon, Denison men's basketball enjoyed some holiday cheer on Saturday as they opened the 2019 UC Santa Cruz Holiday Classic with a 79-71 victory over UCSC at the Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Shooting an efficient 50 percent (29-of-58) from the floor while adding 38 points in the paint, Denison pulled away in the second half after connecting on 15 of their 26 shots in the period and outrebounding the Slugs, 18-13.
In the opening minutes of the game, the Big Red took an early 17-6 lead after freshman Will Hunter tallied back-to-back layups and Jack Coulter and Fred Brou capped off the scoring run with a pair of threes.
With 10:28 remaining in the first half, the Banana Slugs looked to bring momentum back to the home side on three-straight buckets from Haakon Ullrich, but Conor Fenton responded with the next nine points for DU as Denison kept their lead at 26-18 with less than nine minutes to play in the frame.
Despite the Big Red lead, UCSC ended the half on an 18-8 scoring run, capitalized by a shooting foul on Patrick Ramos at the buzzer that turned into three consecutive free throws. Denison trailed by two, 36-34, entering the break.
In the second half, both sides went back and forth through the first eight minutes of action and sat at a 50-50 tie with 12:07 to play. Denison followed with back-to-back threes from Nate Haller and Matt Gerics, including a driving layup from Kevin Cheng to give DU eight-straight points and put the Big Red ahead 58-50. After Freeman Brou tallied his fourth basket of the game and Gerics landed a three-point play the old-fashioned way, Denison turned their second-half surge into a 15-5 scoring run that put DU in front, 65-55 with 7:42 remaining.
Threes from Simon Mueller-Landsvik, Ryan Silva, and Ramos helped the Banana Slugs trim their deficit to 74-69 with less than two minutes to play, but the Big Red iced the game at the charity stripe when Coulter and Cheng combined to bury three of their final four attempts and gave Denison their third win of the season. The loss dropped UC Santa Cruz to 5-8 on the season.
Fenton, a Modesto, Calif. native, led the Big Red with a game-high 17 points while adding eight rebounds and four assists. A native of nearby San Francisco, Calif., Coulter finished with 12 points and two assists in 33 minutes of action while Cheng and Freeman Brou also chipped in 12 points each. Gerics added eight points and four rebounds off the bench.
Ullrich led the way for UCSC with 16 points and nine boards. Avri Finch totaled 13 points and Ramos tallied 12 points and five assists.
The Big Red will return to Kaiser Permanente Arena on Sunday, December 22 for day two of the Santa Cruz Holiday Classic when they take on Whittier College at 1 p.m. PST.