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Men's Basketball: 'Eaters remain in first

Freshman Nelson (28 points) and Ndiaye (11 blocks and a near-triple-double) help UCI top visiting 49ers.

February 06, 2014|By Barry Faulkner

UC Irvine freshmen Luke Nelson and Mamadou Ndiaye were freshmen in high school the last time someone other than Long Beach State won the Big West Conference regular-season men's basketball championship.

But Nelson and Ndiaye combined to help UCI move another step closer to displacing the 49ers by leading the Anteaters to a dramatic 61-58 victory in front of 2,979 at the Bren Events Center on Thursday.

Nelson, an import from Worthing England, scored a career-high 28 points, including five three-pointers and the final three points of the game for the winners.

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Ndiaye, a 7-foot-6 center originally from Senegal, blocked a school- and conference-record 11 shots, while pulling down 10 rebounds. He had eight points to come up just shy of a triple-double.

The win gave UCI (15-9, 6-2 in conference), ranked No, 22 in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major top-25 poll, its first regular-season sweep of its Black and Blue series rival in six seasons and extended its winning streak over The Beach to four. It also insured that the 'Eaters would awaken on Friday with at least a share of the Big West Conference lead. UCI entered Thursday in a three-way tie for first with Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara, which visited Hawaii on Thursday in a game that began at 9 p.m.

A win by UCSB would put the Gauchos in a first-place tie with UCI. A UCSB loss would give UCI sole possession of first heading into Saturday's road clash at UC Davis.

Victory was hardly assured in a game that featured 10 tie scores and 11 lead changes.

The visitors (9-13, 5-3), who saw their four-game winning streak halted, took a 49-44 lead with 9:31 left. But they went scoreless the next 5:52, allowing UCI to take a 56-49 advantage. UCI's 12-0 run during that stretch included six points each by Nelson and senior Chris McNealy.

Nelson converted two steals into layups, the second with 4:41 left to put the hosts in good position and electrify the vocal home rooters.

But Nelson's game-breaking plays continued. After junior UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb pulled the 49ers within 58-57 with a three-pointer from the right corner with 1:25 left, Nelson, who is averaging 23 points the last three games to assume the team scoring lead, made a step-back 14-foot jumper from the left wing with Long Beach junior guard Mike Caffey in his face to put UCI up, 60-57 with 43 seconds remaining.

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