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Irvine Finds More Trouble on Road : Anteaters, Ever-Hospitable Guests, Lose to New Mexico St.

Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine’s basketball team, always the perfect guest, kept the game entertaining for the first 30 minutes Thursday night and then politely stood aside while the hosts rolled out their highlight-film moves.

Irvine, 1-7 on the road this year, was within 10 points of New Mexico State with less than 11 minutes to play before succumbing, 90-69, in front of 5,518 in the Pan Am Center. New Mexico State (12-6 overall) improved its Big West Conference record to 5-3. Irvine fell to 6-10, 3-4.

The public address announcer introduced New Mexico State as “your Roadrunners!"--(the New Mexico State women’s team is known as the Roadrunners)--before the game. And the way Irvine played inside defense, real Roadrunners might have won this one.

The Aggies made 8 of their first 11 shots and finished with a 57% mark from the floor. They also outrebounded the Anteaters, 41-25. Center James Anderson and forwards Johnny Roberson and Willie Joseph did just about whatever they pleased underneath the basket all night.

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Roberson, who reached the 1,000 points plateau with his first basket, was 9 of 15 from the field and finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds. Anderson was 7 of 9 with 17 points and 4 rebounds. And Joseph, one of the Aggies injured when a team van was involved in a collision in the fog in Fresno Jan. 17, was 7 of 13, scored 16 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.

Jeff McCool, the Aggies’ main 3-point threat who suffered head and neck injuries in the accident, made a brief appearance but was not a factor in the game. It was the first time in 32 games that McCool did not make a 3-pointer.

Keith Hill, who replaced McCool in the starting lineup, scored 11 points and is shooting 62% from the field as a starter. Anderson replaced Steve McGlothlin, who hurt his knee in the mishap, and is shooting 72% in the past 3 games.

The Aggies have had their share of misfortune this year--Joseph missed 2 games when his mother died--but they haven’t exactly been devastated by it.

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“It seemed like we didn’t do anything right and they did everything exactly right,” Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. “It was a funny game that way.”

But he wasn’t laughing.

The only thing amusing about this evening was the final couple of minutes when the Aggies’ freshman guard William Benjamin put on a showboat dribbling performance almost worthy of the Globetrotters. New Mexico State Coach Neil McCarthy had to turn away he was laughing so hard and official Ron Labetich turned to reporters on press row and said, “Earl Monroe,” while Benjamin juked and jived his way into a charging call.

New Mexico State usually wins games with its serious defense--the Aggies are holding opponents to a 41% field-goal percentage this season, 13th best in the country--and most of the Anteaters had a tough time with the Aggies’ tenacious matchup zone.

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“The matchup has some weaknesses,” Mulligan said. “I mean we didn’t exactly exploit them, but we were penetrating and kicking it out and the outside guys just didn’t put the ball down.”

Combine that with the fact that Irvine’s inside play was less than awesome and it added up to big trouble for Irvine.

Forward Mike Doktorczyk, who made 12 of 12 shots Saturday night, opened with a 6-foot jump-hook air ball and that sort of set the tone. He finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds, but it hardly kept pace with New Mexico State’s inside onslaught.

Only sophomore Jeff Herdman, who made 6 of 8 3-pointers and scored a career-high 23 points, shot well outside for Irvine. The Anteaters’ other perimeter players were a combined 9 of 30 from the field.

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“Our defense was pretty weak and their matchup is by far the best in the conference,” Mulligan said, “but I think we still could have won this game if we shot halfway decently.”

Irvine’s leading scorer--guard Rod Palmer--made only 2 of 10 3-point attempts and scored 10 points. Second-leading scorer Kevin Floyd was 3 of 9 from the field and also had 10.

“I think our defense was pretty darn good tonight,” McCarthy said. “We did a good job on both of their fine guards (Palmer and Floyd). And we got a great game out of Willie Joseph and another good game out of Johnny Roberson.

“Still, it was a game until late in the second half when we got real hot and they went cold. I hope we can maintain this momentum for UC Santa Barbara Saturday night.”

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