UC Irvine endured a late second-half run and held Barry Brown (14.9 PPG) to ___ points in a 70-64 win over 4-seed Kansas State for its first NCAA Tournament win in school history.
UC Irvine’s game was bookended by Max Hazzard‘s threes. The Big West Tournament’s Most Valuable Player’s fingerprints were all over the game — from his NBA-range three in response to Kansas State’s quick start, to the late corner three that quashed the Wildcats’ comeback hopes for good. The junior finished with a game-high 19 points (on 5-11 from three), splitting high-scoring honors with teammate Evan Leonard, who also came alive in the second half.
Yet In the first half, Kansas State was the team hitting outside shots. The Wildcats figured that the easiest way to avoid the nation’s best interior defense was knocking down threes, which they did well thanks to the efforts of Xavier Sneed and Kamau Stokes. But both offenses eventually stalled, yielding to both teams’ slow-burn, defensive-minded gameplans.
Baskets were not easy to come by for the Anteaters, but they got help in unexpected places. For a team that prides itself in developing four-year players and not relying on the transfer market as much as its Big West counterparts, the UC Irvine’s two saviors in the first half were Stanford transfer Robert Cartwright and Utah State transfer Elston Jones.
After falling behind 17-9 in the first eight minutes, Robert Cartwright’s five points sparked a 7-0 run. But Kansas State responded with a 9-0 run of its own, which led to two fiery timeout speeches from UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner. His anger was warranted: UC Irvine had as many turnovers as they had field goals (6).
Then it was Elston Jones’s turn. The Big West’s Sixth Man of the Year came alive with a three-point play, then a block on the other end of the floor. He single-handedly got the Anteaters back in the game with a three-point play, which sparked a 9-0 UC Irvine run. Jones surpassed his 5.7 PPG average in 1:42 of game-time, and finished with 11 points off the bench.
Did you know anteaters could spin? pic.twitter.com/lEyyH1sXit— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 22, 2019
Hazzard’s buzzer-beating three to tie the game at 30-all was a sign of things to come. UC Irvine torched the nets against a Kansas State team that has held opponents to shooting 31.2 percent from three — good for No. 30 in the nation — thanks to Hazzard, Leonard and Cartwright. As a team, UC Irvine shot 54.5 percent from three in the second half.
Although Kansas State battled back with a late surge of its own, costly turnovers and foul trouble doomed the shorthanded Wildcats, who were playing without their best player in Dean Wade. Meanwhile, the Anteaters will take on the winner of 5-seed Wisconsin and 12-seed Oregon.