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Alexander: For UC Riverside, effort was a 10 but results fell short

By in Press Enterprise on January 4, 2018

By Jim Alexander

FULLERTON — It was not a style statement when Justin Bell came out to UC Riverside’s bench Wednesday night without a sport coat.

It might turn out to be his trademark, but the Highlanders’ interim coach had a simple reason for coaching in shirtsleeves.

“I’m an energetic guy,” he said. “I probably would have sweated through the coat, so I took the coat off. Why ruin a good suit?”

That energy may ultimately be the antidote to the turbulence the Highlanders have felt over the last few days, following the sudden midseason firing of head coach Dennis Cutts.

It helped some Wednesday night, but not quite enough. UCR played hard to the end in its Big West opener, but going 1-for-8 from the field in the final 8:50 turned out to be too much of a burden to overcome, in Cal State Fullerton’s 68-65 victory.

Energy and intensity were the watchwords for UCR (5-10), whose players tamped down any emotions they might have felt over their head coach being uncoupled.

It helped that Bell, who as associate head coach had recruited these players, had been the high energy guy all along anyway, the yin to Cutts’ yang.

Only difference now? There’s no calm guy left on the bench. Keith Wilkerson, Byron Rimm and Brian Weathers all bring various levels of energy themselves.

“Right now we need energy,” redshirt sophomore guard DJ Sylvester said. “We’ll take it any way we can, whether it’s the coaches, whether it’s the players, the bench, whatever.”

UCR can always use shooting, too. Sylvester drew just his third start of the season Wednesday night, and he responded with a game high 24 points on 7 for 11 shooting, including 5 for 5 from three-point territory. The Highlanders’ 10-for-22 output from beyond the arc was their best three-point exhibition of the year; the previous best was […]    

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