New Mexico State came into UC Irvine's Bren Center on Thursday with only one loss, but Aggie Coach Neil McCarthy said it seemed as if his team was primed for an upset.
New Mexico State led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but Irvine cut the lead to one before the Aggies held on for a 75-71 victory in front of 2,372.
Trying to be upset?
"They didn't try hard enough, did they?" Irvine Coach Rod Baker said.
For the second consecutive game, Baker was disappointed in his team's ballhandling. After committing 27 turnovers against Tulane Monday, Irvine had 21 against New Mexico State, which had 14 steals.
Irvine fell to 3-7.
"I think we have to value possession of the ball a little more, treat it like it's made of gold instead of eggshells," Baker said.
He was also disappointed in the free-throw shooting imbalance. New Mexico State made 25 of 34, Irvine four of eight.
Irvine's comeback was fueled by its guards. Keith Stewart, a transfer from Marquette, came off the bench to score a team-high 13 points, making six of 10 shots in 17 minutes. His floating one-hander in the lane and three-pointer helped pull Irvine close, as did three-pointers by David Hollaway and Jeff Von Lutzow.
Von Lutzow, who finished with 12 points, cut the lead to one, 63-62, with 4:05 left when he faked a three-pointer, then dribbled in for a 10-footer.
New Mexico State's Ron Putzi made a three-pointer for a four-point lead, but Stewart cut it to one again with another three-pointer. New Mexico State struck back with William Benjamin's three-pointer for a four-point lead that never dwindled.
"It was one of those nights, we were flat and disjointed on offense," McCarthy said. "Give credit to Irvine. But I don't think we'd be 8-1 if we'd played that way all year."