Given UC Irvine's failures in the Big West Conference tournament the last two seasons, the ominous signs late in the second half pointed to further disappointment Thursday night against Cal State Northridge.
The Anteaters were trailing by nine points with 10 minutes left. Their best player, Jordan Harris, had four fouls, and they couldn't make a free throw if their postseason depended on it.
That is when Harris wouldn't allow an early Irvine exit. The senior forward made two free throws with 37 seconds left to force overtime and the Anteaters held Northridge scoreless for most of the extra period in a 70-64 victory at the Anaheim Convention Center.
"The biggest thing is we never quit playing," Irvine Coach Pat Douglass said. "Every one of these games is tough. There's so much at stake."
Perhaps the last two seasons were in the minds of the Anteaters, or at least their fans. Cold shooting two years ago resulted in a semifinal-round loss to Pacific. Last year, Santa Barbara came up with the big plays down the stretch to keep Irvine out of the final.
On Thursday, the Anteaters (20-8) missed 17 of 33 free throws after making a league-leading 74.8% during the season. After taking a 56-55 lead on Mike Hood's three-point basket, they missed five in a row and seven of eight.
With Irvine trailing 59-57, Harris was fouled by Ian Boylan. His first try bounced around the rim before falling and then he swished the second.
"It kind of scared me missing all of those free throws," Harris said. "I think it was our younger guys nervous being in the tournament. If we had made our free throws, it would have been a completely different game.
"We were lucky in a way."
Northridge (14-15) had a chance to win but it couldn't get a shot off in its final possession. It proved to be fatal as it went into overtime short-handed with Boylan and Davis disqualified because of fouls.
"It was very disappointing," said guard Curtis Slaughter, who led Northridge with 17 points. "I can take the blame on that one.
"I should have been more aggressive even though they had two guys on me."
Hood scored seven of his 16 points in overtime.
Adam Parada added 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks and Gloger had 12 points and six assists.