UC Irvine proved Monday night that its ability to lure teams into high-speed layup drills can produce results beyond entries in media guides as the opponent in the most-points-scored record.
The Anteaters gave up 17 layups and trailed the University of New Orleans, 59-47, at halftime before showing their marathon runner's kick in the second half and rallying for a 93-91 upset victory in front of 1,940 in the Bren Center.
Privateer forward Ledell Eackles' 16-foot jumper at the buzzer was ruled late by official Bill Spooner and Irvine (5-2) hung on for its biggest win of the season.
Eackles 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. "But we lost because they got a lot more help off their bench than 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."
Instead of giving up, the Anteaters put together their best half of basketball this season. Irvine swingman Kevin Floyd, who spent much of the night trying to slow Eackles, held the Privateer star to 8 points after he had scored 16 in the first half. He also might have gotten a hand in Eackles' face at just the right time.
'On that last jumper, I got my hand up and he had to hang for just a second longer," Floyd said.
"They decided to go ahead and play at our tempo, and it made a difference in the second half. After I saw how many Ledell had at the half, I decided to forget about my offense and just concentrate on stopping him."
After the first half, it didn't appear as if this one would be decided by a last-second shot. The Privateers (2-2) looked invincible. New Orleans scored on 15 of 17 possessions in 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 half. The Privateers scored on eight 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.
"We can play like that," Tolis said. "But I was really disappointed in our bench play. That was the difference."
Ten Irvine players played eight or more minutes and nine scored Monday night. Only seven Privateers scored, and the starting five accounted for all but eight of their points.
"I don't know if our defense was that much different in the second half," said Irvine forward Wayne Engelstad, who led Irvine with 22 points. "We just turned up the intensity."
All that first-half offense must have worn out the Privateers because their concentration disappeared in the second half.
Irvine, with the help of 13 second-half turnovers by New Orleans, steadily cut the deficit.
Senior Frank Woods, whose previous high game was 13 points, scored 20 points and had 5 rebounds. He scored two old-fashioned three-point plays (layup and free throw), another free throw and a tipin in a 2 1/2-minute span midway through the second half as Irvine closed to within seven, 78-71.
The Anteaters finally went ahead, 85-84, on a short jumper in the lane by sophomore point guard Mike Labat. Irvine led, 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 shots 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 against a good team with a strong inside and outside game. And we came back when we could have given up."
The Anteaters learned long ago that the race isn't over until the final buzzer. And when you score at a 90-point-per-game clip, deficits--and sometimes leads--can disappear in a hurry.