TULSA, Okla. — UC Irvine's first-round loss in the National Invitation Tournament will go down as another of those games in which the Anteaters couldn't bury an opponent when they should have.
This time, it cost Irvine its season.
The Big West Conference regular-season champions fell to Tulsa, 75-71, Wednesday night.
It was the first NIT victory in 20 years for Tulsa (22-11), but it could have gone the other way.
The Anteaters (25-5) quieted the crowd by taking an 18-9 lead on a basket by reserve center J.R. Christ off an assist pass from senior forward Ben Jones only seven minutes into the game.
The Anteaters seemed to be in control later when they withstood several Golden Hurricane advances. Two free throws by Jones made it 31-24 with four minutes 13 seconds to go in the half.
But that's when the team's Achilles' heel flared up. "All year we've never been able to put teams away," Coach Pat Douglass said.
After Jones' free throws, Tulsa closed the half with a 17-7 run to take a 41-38 lead.
Tulsa started the second half with seven quick points for a 48-38 lead. Douglass took a timeout and Irvine, which had fallen into a funk offensively, was clearly frustrated.
It got worse. Tulsa led, 68-54, with about six minutes to play before Irvine rallied.
Douglass blamed some of Irvine's problems on inexperience in the front line. Freshman center Adam Parada scored 10 points and had six rebounds but got two quick fouls early on and came out. Freshman forward Stanislav Zuzak, who lost his starting job to guard Malachi Edmond, was ineffective again at both ends of the floor.
Led by Christ's season-high 12 rebounds, Irvine held a 44-39 edge on the backboards. But Tulsa thoroughly owned the key when it was making its run to close the first half. Christ finished with 13 points.
At the other end the Anteaters, whose effort from the floor can be described as tentative at best, made only 26 of 68 field goals (38.2%). Green, the leading scorer in the Big West Conference, finished with 15 points, but passed up many open looks he normally takes and forced some others. He made only five of 16 from the field.
Sean Jackson, who ranks third in the nation in three-point shooting percentage, was only one for eight from the three-point line and two of 12 overall. Jones had 13 points but was four of 10 from the field, and Edmond scored 13 points but made only four of his 13 shots.
Green, who didn't seem as fluid with the ball as he was earlier in the season, said that in the second half the Anteaters got good shots that "weren't going in tonight."
Tulsa guard Greg Harrington made eight of 11 field goals and led all scorers with 20 points. Center Kevin Johnson, a 6-7 sophomore who was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference choice, has not practiced because of a sore heel, but finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
The Anteaters got within four points twice in the final 1:40, but when Jackson missed a three-point attempt with 45 seconds left, Tulsa got the ball back.
"We threw a couple of lazy passes," Tulsa Coach Buzz Peterson said. "At that point we weren't playing against Irvine, we were playing against the clock."