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Men's Basketball: UCI holds off 49ers

Long Beach State fails to get off shot on final possession as Anteaters take Big West opener at Pyramid.

January 10, 2014|By Barry Faulkner

LONG BEACH — The Big West Conference championship torch wasn't exactly passed Thursday night, but the UC Irvine men's basketball team effectively nudged it from its familiar resting place at the Walter Pyramid.

UCI held on for a 46-44 conference-opening victory over host Long Beach State, which has captured the previous three Big West regular-season titles.

Mamadou Ndiaye, UCI's 7-foot-6 center dunked an entry pass from Travis Souza with 2:07 left to put UCI up, 45-42, and sophomore Mike Best sank the first of a one-and-one free-throw situation with nine seconds remaining to give the visitors (10-7) a two-point lead.

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Long Beach State, with no timeouts remaining, bobbled the ball in the backcourt after collecting Best's missed free throw, wasting valuable time. The 49ers eventually cleared midcourt with about five seconds remaining as senior Mike Caffey dribbled toward the left wing. Caffey then passed to Travis Hammonds on the right wing, but Hammonds' missed three-point attempt failed to beat the buzzer.

UCI used a 10-0 run early in the second half to take a 33-25 lead and when senior Chris McNealy netted a three-pointer with 12:42 remaining, UCI's lead was 41-29.

UCI, however, went 8:19 without a field goal to allow the 49ers to pull within 43-42, before Ndiaye's slam.

Hammonds cut the deficit to 45-44 with a 10-footer with 48 seconds left and Souza missed a three-pointer with about 20 seconds left.

Caffey missed a runner that Ndiaye rebounded with 13.8 seconds left and Long Beach State immediately fouled to give UCI the ball out of bounds. UCI Coach Russell Turner substituted his best free-throw shooters and Best, statistically No. 2 on the roster at 91.7 percent fielded the subsequent inbounds pass and converted.

"Defense travels," said Turner, whose team held the 49ers to 31.5% shooting from the field (17 for 54) and won the rebounding battle, 42-35. "You can win road games if you play defense.

"We made enough plays offensively during one stretch early in the second half and we got enough rebounds to win the game. Our guys showed poise late. Best is the second-best free-throw shooter we have, so that's why he was out there. He stepped up and converted that first one and it was a big moment for him."

UCI, picked to win the conference in the preseason poll, got 12 points, five rebounds and four assists from McNealy, as well as 11 points and four rebounds from sophomore guard Alex Young.

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