UC Irvine proved Monday night that its ability to lure teams into high-speed layup drills can have its advantages.
The Anteaters gave up 17 layups and trailed the University of New Orleans, 59-47, at halftime before showing their marathoner's kick in the second half and rallying for a 93-91 upset victory in front of 1,940 at the Bren Center.
Privateer forward Ledell Eackles' 16-foot jumper at the buzzer was ruled late by official Bill Spooner, and Irvine hung on for its biggest win of the season.
Eackles, who scored 24 points, said that he "saw no red light (behind the backboard) and heard no horn" when he released the shot. Art Tolis, New Orleans' coach, said he didn't think there was any doubt the shot was good, but felt his team's second-half wilt was a bigger factor.
"It was close and I think he (Spooner) believed he made a good call," Tolis said. "We lost because they got a lot more help off their bench then we did. Irvine is a good, smart team. I told our guys at halftime they couldn't relax because Irvine wasn't going to quit."
In the first half, New Orleans (2-2) looked invincible. The Privateers scored on 15 of 17 possessions within a seven-minute stretch, starting with Gabe Corchiani's three-pointer at 12:43 and ending with Eackles' 18-foot jumper with 5:32 left in the first half. They scored eight times on layups during that span and went from a one-point deficit (18-17) to a 13-point advantage (46-33).
New Orleans shot 71% from the floor in the first half. Forward Sam Jones, who led the Privateers with 25 points, was their worst shooter in the first half and he made 7 of 11 shots.
"I don't know if our defense was that much different in the second half," said Irvine forward Wayne Engelstad, who led the Anteaters with 22 points. "We just turned up the intensity."
All that first-half offense must have worn out the Privateers because their concentration disappeared after intermission.
Irvine, with the help of 13 second-half turnovers, steadily cut the deficit in the second half and went ahead, 85-84, on a short jumper in the lane by sophomore point guard Mike Labat. The Anteaters were up by six (91-85) on two free throws by Engelstad with 43 seconds remaining.
But Corchiani made two three-pointers--one with 33 seconds left and one with 11 seconds remaining--to tie the score, 91-91.
Labat was bringing the ball upcourt after the second three-pointer when he hesitated and Jones, who was trailing the play, ran up his back. Jones fouled out on the play, and Labat, a 62% free-throw shooter coming in, made both ends of the one-and-one situation.
"It was a good win, but I wouldn't say this proves we're a good team," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. "They made a lot of mistakes in the second half. And we didn't really play that great in the last few minutes. But it was a big, big win."