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Warriors fall to UC Irvine, 68-67, in heartbreaker at Big West Tournament

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Max Hazzard drained a 15-foot pull-up jumper from the left side with 5.5 seconds remaining tonight to lift UC Irvine to a thrilling 68-67 comeback victory over Hawai’i in the Big West Conference men’s basketball quarterfinals.

A stunned crowd of about 3,500 at the Honda Center watched Evan Leonard score a game-high 23 points and Essayu Worku add 19 points as the Anteaters overcame a late 10-point deficit. After Hazzard’s clutch basket, Brocke Stepteau quickly pushed the ball upcourt and drove into the lane, but his floater fell short off the front of the rim as time expired.

No. 3 seed UC Irvine (17-16) advances to Friday’s semifinals. while the sixth-seeded Warriors’ season will likely end at 17-13.

Gibson Johnson scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half and a go-ahead three-point play with 14.1 seconds remaining, and Mike Thomas scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds for UH.

UH led 29-26 at halftime and led, 62-52, after Thomas’ monster two-handed slam dunk off of Drew Buggs’ nifty dish with 4:06 remaining. The Anteaters quickly answered with Eyassu Worku’s driving layup and then a 3-pointer from the left corner by Max Hazzard, cutting the lead in half to 62-57 just 30 seconds later.

After Stepteau swished a floater to push it back to 64-57 with 3:12 left, Leonard sank two free throws at the other end to make it 64-59, and Worku then sank free throws to cut it to 64-61 with 2:26 remaining. After the Warriors lost possession on a held ball against full-court pressure on the ensuing inbounds pass, Worku then banked in a runner from the right side high off the glass to cut it to 64-63 with 1:56 left and scored a layup to give UC Irvine their first lead since late in the first half at 65-64 with 1:07 remaining.

Leonard later sank the first of two free throws to make it 66-64 with 37.1 seconds left, but he missed the second and Johnson converted a three-point play after hitting a layoff and was fouled on the spin move.

But Hazzard answered with his game-winner nine seconds later, and Stepteau’s potential game winner fell just short.

More details, including video highlights and interviews, will be posted later.

(Game photo courtesy Brandon Flores)

Thursday’s Quarterfinal Results
No. 1 UC Davis 70, No. 8 UC Riverside 66
No. 4 Cal State Fullerton 76, No. 5 Long Beach State 74
No. 3 UC Irvine 68, No. 6 Hawai’i 67
No. 2 UC Santa Barbara 75, No. 7 Cal Poly 53

Friday’s Semifinals
UC Davis vs. Cal State Fullerton, 4:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
UC Santa Barbara vs. UC Irvine, 7:00 p.m. (Hawai’i time)

2 Comments

  1. Heart breaking loss. Feel for Mike Thomas and Gib, they played hard and performed tonight. Good showing of UH fans more so than Irvine. We were loud the game was in our hands but a few missed free throws, not being able to handle the press in second half, poor play and lack of focus by Drammeh contributed to our loss. He spends too much time complaining to refs on every call made on him then loses focus on the game and makes stupid mistakes. We had this team on the ropes as the coaches had an excellent plan on defense that was working. Just too many mistakes, turn overs, missed foul shots and the press by Irvine towards the end. Buggs fouling out also hurt at the end. We needed him in he game not Drammeh. Recruiting now turns to an athletic scorer that we surely need. We love our Warriors but this loss will hurt for a while. We had Irvine. ! Krap!

  2. Ganot has to recruit athletic talent scorers defenders. He knows it. That first season he guided that AV type of hoopsters to 28 wins including historic first NCAA tournament win ever.
    Eran has to step up. Thought warriors could win weak BWC field.Other teams talent just one step ahead.
    Eran recruit couple of JC all american types. No Pay for play Matlin…. Waste UH monies really.

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