UCI staves off Vanguard

IRVINE — UC Irvine freshmen Will Davis and Aaron Wright came up with big plays in the closing minutes to key a hard-fought men's basketball victory Saturday night.

But whether they will have the courage to relate their heroics in the future, remains in question.

That's because it took a game-tying three-pointer by Wright with 1:09 left, a put-back credited to Davis with 49 seconds remaining, and a blocked shot by Davis with 18 ticks left to help preserve a 75-73 win over Vanguard, a victory that UCI believed should not have been anywhere as precarious as it turned out.

Vanguard, an NAIA school that played the game as an exhibition, nearly came away with a signature win that would not have counted on its 6-4 record.

UCI (2-6), for which the game counted, mustered all the crunch-time fortitude it needed to post its second straight win.

"The main thing I liked was, we didn't have guys who shrunk from the moment," UCI Coach Russell Turner said after his team built then squandered a 15-point second-half lead. "You've got to have courage to be good in any sport, but that's especially true in college basketball when you're playing a team that everybody expects you to beat."

Vanguard's courage appeared more in the form of abandon as the Lions, coached by former UCI assistant Rhett Soliday, made nine of 15 three-point attempts after halftime to claw back into the contest.

Junior Taylor Kelly made six of nine three-point tries and senior reserve Chris Pynch made all five of his three-point attempts after intermission to help the Lions nearly pull off the upset.

A Pynch three-pointer with 2:00 left put Vanguard on top, 68-67, and a steal by Vanguard senior Chris Raybon on UCI's subsequent possession led to a Cameron Nettles dunk that gave the visitors a three-point lead with 1:39 to play.

Davis snatched one of the Anteaters' 20 offensive rebounds and kicked to Wright at the top of the key for the equalizer and a sloppy turnover by the Lions gave UCI the ball back with 1:00 remaining.

UCI guard Daman Starring then missed a runner and Davis rose toward the rim behind Vanguard freshman Jordan Diandy. Diandy appeared to tip the ball in, allowing Davis to take credit for the basket that gave UCI the lead for good. It was the second time in the game that a Lion tipped the ball into the Anteaters' basket while attempting to rebound.

Davis, a 6-8 forward, finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds — both career highs — in 26 minutes off the bench.

Starring had 16 points and nine rebounds and Mike Wilder chipped in 16 points and five boards. Wright, the starting point guard, had eight points, eight rebounds and three assists. Chris McNealy had nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds to help UCI post a 56-31 edge on the glass.

"I'm pleased with my team for making the plays down the stretch that it took to win," said Turner, who praised Vanguard's performance.

"'I'm pleased about my team gutting out a win against another squad that came in here and played well. There is nobody who knows better that there are good players at every level than I do, because I [was an All-American] in Division III. These [Vanguard] guys came In here and did their thing and could have easily beaten us, if we hadn't made the plays at the end to win."

Starring made two free throws with 15 seconds left, but Kelly netted the last of the Lions' 14 three-pointers to  trim the lead to 74-73 with five seconds left.

Starring made another foul shot, then chased down the rebound from his missed free throw as time expired.

"A lot of our players were saying they wouldn't have come out of their room, if we would have ended up losing," Davis said after UCI had 23 turnovers. "They were just like 'We've got to win this game.' In the end, we're glad we won, but that was way too close."


UC Irvine 75, Vanguard 73

VU – Thompson 2, Diandy 7, Taylor 18, Raybon 16, Kupets 4, Pynch 17, Nettles 6, Khoury 3.

3-pt. goals – Kelly 6, Pynch 5, Raybon 2, Khoury 1.

Fouled out – Nettles.

Technicals – None.

UCI – Wilder 16, Folker 4, Starring 16, McNealy 9, Wright 8, Davis 17, Flowers 5.

3-pt. goals – Wilder 3, Starring 1, Wright 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

Halftime – 39-28, UCI.

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