The Anteaters closed out 2007 with a win they hoped would serve as a season-changing performance in Cambridge, Mass. by erasing an 18-point deficit and defeating Harvard University, 80-77, in overtime. It was the Anteaters first non-conference road victory this season with the last on Dec. 30, the same date as last year’s game against UC Davis.
The story of the season up until this game for the Anteaters was defined by their inability to close out games. The Anteaters have already proven that they can compete with any of their opponents for the first 30 minutes of the game; however, they have collapsed in the final minutes of each of their eight losses. But this was not the case against the prestigious Ivy League establishment Harvard University.
The Anteaters found themselves in a 50-32 deficit with 14:11 remaining in regulation. With 2:41 left on the clock, UC Irvine managed to decrease the Harvard lead to five points, 61-56, with a three pointer from center Darren Fells. With 51 seconds remaining, the Crimson fought back and took a lead of seven on a pair of free throws by Drew Housman.
Luckily, the Anteaters’ sophomore guard Michael Hunter took the next couple of possessions in his own hands. Hunter drilled a three pointer with 38.5 seconds left to cut the Crimson lead to 65-60. With 34 seconds remaining on the clock, he then stole the ensuing inbound pass and converted a layup, putting the game within three points at 65-62.
UCI was forced to foul Housman on the next possession, and he converted one of two free throws to put Harvard up 66-62 with 27.6 seconds left. Shortly thereafter, Fells was fouled while shooting and he converted both free throws with 22.6 seconds remaining.
The Crimson managed again on the next play to put the ball in the hands of its most reliable free throw shooter on the floor, Housman. With 15.8 seconds left on the clock, Housman, an 88 percent free throw shooter, converted one of two free throws to put Harvard up 67-64.
UCI came back on the floor after a timeout and junior Brett Lauer provided some clutch shooting by nailing a three pointer to tie the game at 67 with 13.3 seconds left for Harvard to take the game. Senior Patrick Sanders provided some clutch defense in the end by blocking Harvard’s Evan Harris’s potentially game-winning shot.
Harvard jumped to a 75-71 lead in overtime with 2:49 remaining. A Sanders jumper and a Lauer layup gave UCI a 76-75 lead.
Then, a pair of free throws by Harris left Harvard a 77-76 lead with 1:20 remaining on the clock. UCI junior Kevin Bland countered the play with a layup underneath the basket with 1:11 left. Sanders then scored his eighth overtime point with 21.2 seconds left. The Crimson failed to convert on three attempts in the final seconds of the game, allowing the Anteaters to come out with a thrilling victory.
The UCI victory was a wholehearted team effort. Sanders scored all 13 of his points in the final eight-and-a-half minutes of regulation and overtime. Fells led all scorers with a career high of 24 points along with seven rebounds, five steals and four blocks. Fells was named Big West Athlete of the Week for his efforts.
Senior guard Marcus McIntosh had a career high of 13 points on 6 out of 10 shooting, Lauer added 10 points and redshirt freshman Patrick Rembert played a season-high 11 minutes and had two assists with no turnovers.
‘Brett Lauer hit key three-point shots at the end of regulation and in overtime and I thought Patrick Rembert came off the bench and gave us a defensive lift that we were missing,’ said Head Coach Pat Douglass.
UCI shot 50.7 percent from the field, and hit six out of seven field goals in overtime. They also had 11 steals in the contest, while Harvard had 26 turnovers.
Unfortunately, the win didn’t create the kind of momentum UCI needed to start the beginning of Big West Conference play with a win against the Titans on Friday.
Sanders turned in one of the most impressive statistical performances of his collegiate career. He scored 27 points, his most as an Anteater, but Cal State Fullerton capitalized on 62-percent shooting from three-point range to bury the Anteaters, 93-83. The game was a Big West Conference opener for both teams in the Titan Gym.
Fullerton (8-4, 1-0) drained 13 of 21 threes in the game, thanks in large part to Marcus Crenshaw’s 4-of-5 performance from three-point range. Crenshaw scored 16 points on the night while Josh Akognon led the Titans with 22. Frank Robinson had a double-double for CSF with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior center Darren Fells had 16 points and eight rebounds for UCI (5-9, 0-1) while junior guard Lauer scored 12 points, nailing four of 8 three-point attempts in the second half. Bland added 11 points, Sanders grabbed seven rebounds and Hunter had a career-high five steals.
UCI also was effective from three-point range, hitting 10 of 19 for 52.6 percent for the game, but Fullerton’s 13 three’s provided for a comfortable victory.
Fullerton closed out the first half with a 12-5 run over the last 4 and a half minutes to lead 44-37 at the half, shooting 63 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Hunter’s three with 15:49 remaining in the game tied the game at 52-52, but Robinson answered with a three and the Titans never fell behind, leading by as many as 15 points down the stretch.
‘I thought our guys battled and I was pleased with their effort, but Fullerton shot the ball very well,’ Douglass said. ‘(Frank) Robinson hit a couple of key threes for them after we had tied the game in the second half.’
UCI will host Big West preseason favorite UC Santa Barbara Thursday night at 7:05 in the Bren Events Center, as they will try to even their Big West Conference record.