IRVINE — Longtime observers of UC Irvine men's basketball would likely come away with the same two-word summary after the Anteaters' 101-92 exhibition win over NAIA representative Vanguard University on Saturday.
Unveiling five frontcourt players ranging from 6-foot-8 to 7-0, the kind of paint presence that is surely unprecedented in the Bren Events Center, the hosts were able to play a level above the scrappy and talented Lions.
The quintet of senior Adam Folker, sophomores John Ryan, Mike Best and Will Davis, as well as freshman Conor Clifford combined for 58 points and 30 of the 'Eaters' 51 rebounds. Taking advantage of a Vanguard lineup with a pair of 6-5 frontcourt starters, the UCI bigs also made 18 of 24 field-goal attempts (75%) to help UCI finish 38 of 67 from the field (56.7%).
Folker, the 6-8 veteran, made six of eight field-goal attempts, all four of his free throws, and added seven rebounds, three assists and one steal in 21 minutes.
The 6-10 Ryan, who redshirted last season after transferring from Fresno State, made all five of his field-goal tries on his way to 14 points. He also collected nine rebounds and one blocked shot in just 13 reserve minutes.
Clifford, a 7-footer out of Ocean View High, was five for seven from the field (11 points) and pulled down five rebounds in 11 minutes.
Best and Davis, who both stood out sporadically as freshmen, combined for eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks to give Coach Russell Turner plenty of inside options.
UCI needed all that, and double-figure scoring from guards Chris McNealy (15) and Derick Flowers (13) to hold off a Lions squad that amassed 63 second-half points.
Vanguard guards Preston Wynne and Taylor Kelly each had 16 of their 21 points after intermission, and senior post Ennis Whatley netted all 17 of his points in the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore point guard Chris Gorman also chipped in 20 points to help the Lions whittle what once was an 80-60 lead to within 97-92 with 16 seconds left.
But the visitors let 26 seconds click off the clock before fouling with 51 seconds remaining, then let another 10 seconds elapse before sending UCI to the line with 23 ticks left.
UCI made nine of 12 foul shots in the final 2:11 to hold on. Its 51-31 rebounding advantage and a 55-13 bulge in bench scoring was also critical for the winners.
"John Ryan had a terrific game, Adam Folker was solid on offense and our big guys did a good job [executing] our game plan," Turner said. "They were a big part of us holding [the Lions'] top players to very few points in the first half."
But Vanguard spread the floor in the second half, when it netted six of its 10 three-pointers and slashed past one-on-one coverage for layups and floaters.
"We got it going," said VU Coach Rhett Soliday, a former UCI assistant. "We tried to space them out and our guards are pretty good. And [the change] also gave Whatley a little more room in the paint."
Freshman guard Alex Young was another bright spot for UCI, producing nine points, six assists and five rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
"[The 'Eaters] have great depth," Soliday said. "I spent four years here and we had a couple good teams. But I would say would say this [UCI] team has as good a depth as probably anybody in the Big West [Conference] And they have really good bigs."
UC Irvine 102, Vanguard 92
VU – Whatley 17, Chuang 0, Wynne 21, Kelly 21, Gorman 20, Larkins 8, Diandy 5.
3-pt. goals – Kelly 4, Wynne 3, Larkins 2, Gorman 1.
Fouled out – Chuang.
UCI – Wilder 6, Best 4, Folker 16, Flowers 13, Starring 7, McNealy 15, Ryan 14, Clifford 11, Young 9, Davis 4, Wright 2.
3-pt. goals – Flowers 3, Starring 1.
Technicals – McNealy 1.
Halftime – UCI, 45-29.
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun