Daman Starring’s basket with under a minute and half to play gave the UC Irvine its first lead since leading 13-11 in the first half. Starring followed with two free throws with 33.5 seconds to play that made it a 55-51 deficit for Fresno State.
“Until we take the next step in this program, and understand how important it is to finish…it’s going to be on our guys,” said Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry after the Bulldogs wasted a five-point lead in the final three and half minutes of the game.
“We got older guys not understanding the urgency to finish out games. We’re not talking about freshmen; we’re talking about older guys. They got to do their job, you’re up five at end of the ball game, you got to close it out.”
The Bulldogs failed to make a field goal in the final 8:26 and made just five in the entire second half.
“Down the stretch, we could’ve had better execution,” said head coach Rodney Terry. “You got to make a play at the end of the game. We got to continue to get better with that. At some point, we’ll have someone step up and understand how important that is.”
Anteaters head coach Russell Turner was called for a technical foul with 4:31 to play in the game. Tyler Johnson made both foul shots to extend Fresno State’s lead to 49-46. Allen Huddleston added two more foul shots to push the lead to five with 3:41 remaining. Michael Wilder immediately hit a three for UCI, and Alex Young added a shot with 1:48 to play to tie the game at 51.
With 8:00 to play in the game, and the ‘Dogs leading 42-39, Robert Upshaw was hit with a foul and technical foul giving him this third and fourth fouls, respectively. While the Anteaters couldn’t build initially on the mistake, hitting just one foul shot and failing to score on the subsequent inbounds, it did halt the Bulldogs’ momentum. Upshaw didn’t play the rest of the game.
“It’s just growth curve,” Terry said in regards to Upshaw’s technical foul. “Our guys are taught not to talk to officials, only the coaches talk to officials, if that causes for tough lessons to be learned, then will do it every single time.”
Fresno State extended its first half lead to 10 points five minutes into the second half before UC Irvine closed the gap. Huddleston led the Bulldogs with 12 points. Tyler Johnson scored 10 points and a team-leading seven rebounds. Kevin Olekaibe added 10 points – all in the first half.
Chris McNealy led all scorers with 13 points for UCI. Young added 12 points, and leading scoring Starring was held to just eight points. Will Davis II pulled down 15 boards and the Anteaters out-rebounded FS 49-30.
The ‘Dogs used a 10-0 run to take a four-point lead after falling behind 13-7 at the 11:53 mark of the first stanza. FS continued their poor shooting woes this season failing to top 30% clip in the first 20 minutes, and finished the game with a 25.5% clip. The 27.3% first half shooting percentage was still better than the Anteaters’ 25.9% as the ‘Dogs led 23-19 at the break. But UCI improved in the second half hitting 42.9% of their shots.
FS gained their largest lead of the half when Tanner Giddings hit a desperation 15-ft jumper with the shot clock winding down at the 3:40 mark to make it 21-15. Upshaw’s put back with 33 seconds remaining completed the first half scoring.
Fresno State falls to 5-6 and next travels to UCLA on Saturday for an 8 p.m. tip off at Pauley Pavilion. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
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