Eagles are impressive in spurts, but UC Irvine surges ahead in second half in rematch of Nov. 24 Anteater win
His stat line isn't overwhelming, but the imposing presence of 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye and his team's defense certainly is.
For the second time this season, UC Irvine held Eastern Washington University to 33 percent shooting or less and went on to hand EWU its first home loss in four tries this season by a 70-61 score Sunday (Dec. 15) in a non-conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Ndiaye made all five of his shots and finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and blocked four shots, but also altered several others and was a force in the paint. He entered the game ranked 10th in NCAA Division I with 32 total blocks for the season and 22nd with an average of 3.2 swats per game. He had 10 of the blocks in the first meeting against Eastern.
The result was a 33-percent shooting night for the Eagles, who stayed in the game thanks to nine 3-pointers made and the contributions of four Eagles in double figures. UC Irvine also out-rebounded EWU 45-34 and out-scored EWU inside the paint 40-24.
Eastern had entered the game having made 48.5 percent of their shots for the season. In fact, Eastern has made 51 percent from the field in its six non-UCI games this season.
"We have been shooting really well, but you look at the two games we have played against these guys, they make it hard to put the ball in the basket," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "It is not just one guy. They play good team defense, and they have a lot of size. We needed to have a great shooting night to win and that didn't happen.
The loss dropped Eastern to 5-4 on the season while UC Irvine improved to 6-5. Eastern fell to UC Irvine 81-58 in the previous meeting at the 2K Sports Classic in Irvine, and the rematch was a return game for EWU's appearance two seasons ago in Irvine in the ESPN BracketBusters series of games. The Anteaters were 21-16 overall a year ago and played in the College Basketball Invitational Tournament, and won a game before falling in the quarterfinals.
"Irvine is the better team right now," said Hayford. "Coach (Russell) Turner has done a good job of turning that program around. They were the preseason pick to win the Big West and you can see why. They have toughness, a little bit more experience and they are really hard to score against."
Sophomore guard Tyler Harvey led the Eagles with 15 points, and junior Parker Kelly had 13. Junior point guard Drew Brandon had 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and true freshman Ognjen Miljkovic came off the bench to finish with 12 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Eastern forced 18 Anteater turnovers and had 15 fastbreak points to UCI's eight.
"We did a great job defensively -- we forced 18 turnovers," said Hayford. "I thought we did a good job with their ball screen offense. For the most part, except for a couple runs, we did a good job with our transition defense. At the end of the day we have to make baskets, and they guarded the rim really well."
The Eagles fell behind in the first half by as many as nine points at the 5:57 mark. But Eastern used an alley-oop dunk from Brandon to Martin Seiferth to ignite a late scoring surge.
Eastern closed the half with a 9-2 run, with UC Irvine going the last 3:21 without a field goal. A driving layin by Brandon cut the score to two, and a layup by Kelly knotted the score at 29. Yet another layup by Miljkovic gave EWU a two-point lead at intermission.
UC Irvine scored 14 of the first 17 points in the second half and regained an 11-point lead. Eastern used a 13-4 run to pull within two at the 7:50 mark, with Kelly scoring six points in the run and Harvey contributing five. But EWU couldn't get any closer, and a late 10-0 run clinched the win for the Anteaters.
Four UCI players scored in double figures, with Luke Nelson coming off the bench to finish with 13.
The Anteaters had 14 blocked shots in the previous meeting against EWU. They held the Eagles to season-low 30.0 percent shooting from the field, including just 4-of-21 shots from the 3-point stripe.
Eastern's December schedule also includes games against Seton Hall (Dec. 22) and Connecticut (Dec. 28) before opening Big Sky Conference play Jan. 2. Eastern opens league play on the road at Weber State (Jan. 2) and Idaho State (Jan. 4) before hosting Montana (Jan. 9) and Montana State (Jan. 11).