If points were awarded on the basis of the distance the ball traveled before going through the basket, UC Irvine would have won the Freedom Bowl tournament by a wide margin Saturday night in the Bren Center.
As it was, Irvine had to hold off a furious Manhattan College rally in the final minutes for an 86-83 victory in front of 1,787.
Manhattan obviously witnessed Friday night's Irvine-Army game and the Cadets' baseline layup parade.
Manhattan did not score a field goal from beyond five feet until guard Billy Wheeler, who led his team with 29 points, hit a 16-foot jumper with 2:38 left in the first half. The Jaspers had 10 first-half layups.
The Anteaters' man-to-man pressure did cause 20 turnovers, however, and the Jaspers had a bit of trouble getting the ball to drop after beating the Anteaters to the basket. Despite the close-in shooting range, they made just 44%.
Irvine, which shot 55% in the first half en route to a 51-38 lead, shot only 32% in the second half.
"We had more trouble with our offense than our defense tonight," UCI Coach Bill Mulligan said. "We made some terrible offensive decisions down the stretch."
Mulligan was particularly upset with the play of senior center Wayne Engelstad, the tournament's most valuable player, who scored 27 points and had 11 rebounds.
"Wayne's supposed to be the guy who takes over in those pressure situations," Mulligan said, "and he did everything wrong."
Instead, it was freshman Jeff Herdman who came through in the clutch. He had a key steal, a key basket to put Irvine up by three with 2:07 remaining and a couple of key rebounds in the final minutes. Herdman finished with 12 points.
Sophomore point guard Mike Labat, who scored 15 points, was an all-tournament team selection.
The game might have boiled down to a free-throw shooting contest with Manhattan shooting 37 free throws and the Anteaters 36. The Jaspers made 27. UCI made 30.
Still, Manhattan Coach Bob Delle Bovi thought the officiating was the difference.
"On a neutral court, my team wins by 10," he said.
But Delle Bovi was still pleased with the progress his team, which had won just eight games in the last two seasons. "I think this proves we can play with any team in the country."
The Anteaters, especially on a night when they're not shooting well, might not be the ideal yardstick on which to make that judgment.
In the consolation game, Army outscored Air Force, 18-9, in the final six minutes and pulled away to a 79-70 victory. Guard Ron Wilson scored six of his team-high 20 points in the last four minutes to lead Army. Forward Rob Marr, who scored 21 points Friday, was Air Force's leading scorer again Saturday with 22.