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McNealy, 'Eaters surprise Titans

Men's Basketball

Sophomore scores career-high 24 and defense limits threes to earn upset and bid in Big West Tournament semis.

March 08, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

ANAHEIM — A combination of locking down, then closing out produced the most important win of UC Irvine men's basketball coach Russell Turner's two-season tenure on Thursday.

The No. 7-seeded Anteaters, who had not beaten a Division I team with a winning record this season, upset No. 2-seeded Cal State Fullerton, 65-59, in the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament at Honda Center.

UCI (12-19), which had not opened the conference tournament with a victory since 2008, had lost six of seven previous postseason meetings with the Titans and had allowed 192 combined points in two regular-season losses to Fullerton this season, outperformed the most productive offense in the conference.

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The Anteaters, who meet regular-season champion Long Beach State in Friday's semifinals at 6:30 p.m., led by as many as 13 and never trailed to eliminate the Titans (21-9), who were still glowing from a home upset win over Long Beach State on Saturday.

Fullerton, which had shot 62.5% combined from three-point range in two previous meetings with UCI, including 10 for 10 from junior guard D.J. Seeley and six for eight by junior Kwame Vaughn, were held to 25% shooting beyond the arc (five for 20).

Seeley, who scored 27 in each of the two previous meetings, scored all 12 of his points after halftime. He was four of 13 from the field and missed all four of his three-point tries.

Vaughn was one for four from threedom, while Fullerton guard Isaiah Umipig and reserve Perry Webster were a combined one for eight from three-point range.

Meanwhile, UCI hit its first four three-point tries and five of its first six. The 'Eaters finished 10 of 22 from beyond the arc (45.5%, which was only slightly worse than their 46.9% from the field, 23 for 49).

Sophomore Chris McNealy sank four of seven three-point tries to help him record a career-high 24 points for the winners. Juniors Mike Wilder, Derick Flowers and Daman Starring made six of 11 three-point attempts between them.

"Let's make it clear, they beat us [previously] because they made more threes than we did," Turner said of the Titans, whose previous season-low scoring output was 60 points at Wichita State on Dec. 1. "Tonight, we made more threes than them."

Turner said the use of a zone defense and a commitment to deny Seeley the ball helped UCI makeover its previously porous perimeter defense against Fullerton. Turner also said UCI slowed the pace of the game, hoping not to get burned by easy Fullerton baskets in transition.

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