Tigers Hold Off UC Irvine, 84-79
University of the Pacific men's basketball team defeated UC Irvine 84-79 on Tuesday in the Alex G. Spanos Center. With the win, the Tigers improved to 2-0 on the season. The Anteaters dropped to 0-2. The Tigers are next in action on Sunday, November 17 with a home game against Western Illinois at 2:00 p.m.
"I really loved our response tonight, finding a way to win after such a slow start from the field," said Pacific Head Coach Ron Verlin. "It was tough out there with so many fouls, but hitting 84% from the line really helped."
The Anteaters had a 9-0 start to the game, as the Tigers missed their first seven shots from the field. Pacific then outscored UCI 6-3 before another 6-0 stretch by the Anteaters made it 18-6 with 12:32 to play in the half. Senior Ross Rivera then keyed an 18-1 run with nine points to give Pacific a 24-19 lead with 8:59 to play. Rivera finished the first half with 17 points. A jumper by Alex Young cut the Tiger lead to 34-32 with 4:52 left, but five straight free throws from Pacific made it 39-32 with 3:09 left. UCI got a three-pointer from Chris McNealy with :35 seconds left to make it 43-39 at the break. The first half lasted 55 minutes, with 33 fouls and 35 free throws.
In the opening moments of the second half, UCI surged ahead of the Tigers after a jumper by McNealy gave the Anteaters a 46-45 lead with 17:50 to play. Pacific came right back with a three-pointer by senior Andrew Bock and a pair of free throws by senior Sama Taku to regain the lead at 50-46 with 17:15 to go. Another three by McNealy cut the Tiger lead to one (58-57) at the 11:45 mark. The Tigers then used an 11-4 run over the next four minutes to take a 69-61 with 7:46 left. Luke Nelson sparked a 9-2 stretch with five points to cut Pacific's lead to 71-70 with 5:38 to play. A dunk by Mamadou Ndiaye and a free throw by Nelson evened it up at 73-73 to set up a final five minutes that saw the Tigers pull it out.
Kelley scored on a follow to give the Tigers a 76-73 lead and after a strong defensive possession, Kelley just missed on a tip-in. UCI's Young missed on a three-pointer with :33 seconds left and Taku hit one of two free throws, but gets his own miss on the second and went back to the line. Taku hit a pair of foul shots on the next trip to make it 79-73 with :31 seconds left. A layup by Luke Nelson made it 79-75 and Taku hit one free throw (80-75). The Tigers then fouled Young, who made one of two. Sama rebounded the miss and hit another pair to make it 82-76 with :12 remaining. Rivera rebounded a missed three-pointer missed by Nelson and hit a pair of free throws to seal the Tiger win. Young hit a three-pointer at the buzzer for the final score.
There were 77 free throws taken in the game, and that is where the game was won. The Tigers hit 31 of 37 from the line (84.7%), while the Anteaters hit 25 of 40 (62.5%). The 31 free throws is just under the top 10 for a single game.
Rivera led the team with 21 points, and had eight rebounds Taku scored 20 points for the Tigers, hitting 12 of 13 from the free throw line. Taku also had eight rebounds to help pace Pacific. Kelley (11) and Bock (13) also scored in double figures for the Tigers.
Pacific continues a three-game home stand with a game against Western Illinois at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17.