COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Before the UC Irvine men’s basketball team headed across the street to attend Texas A&M’s Midnight Yell Practice, the Anteaters made their own noise with a second-half rally that beat the Aggies 74-73 on Friday night.
Eyassu Worku quieted the crowd as he scored on a falling 12-footer with 6.4 seconds remaining that lifted UC Irvine to its second consecutive comeback victory.
Worku lost his balance on a baseline drive and fell backward, but swished his shot to give the Anteaters their only lead of the second half, and the first since nine minutes into the opening half.
Max Hazzard scored 19 points to lead UC Irvine (2-0), while Robert Cartwright added 10.
The Anteaters trailed 42-32 at halftime and were still down 10 points with nine minutes remaining. In its season opener three days earlier, Irvine trailed at intermission before storming to an 86-68 win over Idaho.
“We have excellent depth, a lot of guys that can play,” Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “We also have smart players that can continue to adjust throughout the game.”
Junior forward Josh Nebo, playing his second game after missing a season following his transfer from Saint Francis, led Texas A&M (1-1) with 15 points. Jay Jay Chandler added 12, while Savion Flagg and John Walker each scored 11, but the Aggies managed only two free throws while being outscored 9-2 in the last 3:23.
The Aggies tried to stall Irvine’s comeback when TJ Starks made a 3-pointer after an offensive rebound by Nebo, pushing A&M ahead 71-65 with 3:50 left. However, Irvine’s Elston Jones made two free throws after Chandler was called for a flagrant foul on a scrum under the basket. The Anteaters kept possession and got a 3-point play by Jones that trimmed A&M’s lead to 71-70.
Christian Mekowulu hit two free throws for the Aggies, but Irvine answered with a basket by Tommy Rutherford.
Starks missed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left, setting the stage for Worku’s go-ahead score.
A&M inbounded without calling a timeout and pushed the ball up the floor, but Starks missed a long 3-point attempt as time expired.
Russell said Anteaters players and staff would attend A&M’s yell practice in advance of Saturday’s football game against Mississippi out of respect for A&M athletic traditions, but Irvine did not respect the Aggies outside shooting.
“We were basically daring them to beat us with jump shots, and they nearly did,” Russell said.
The Aggies struggled from behind the 3-point line, making just 6 of 28 (21.4 percent).
“I’m disappointed,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “It was a hard-fought game and UC Irvine made more shots than we did. We didn’t get a stop at the end. They made a tough shot. That’s what it came down to.”
A&M: The Aggies lost a game they led for more than 28 consecutive minutes before surrendering the winning basket. Texas A&M had a horrible time against Irvine’s zone defense, and needed to get the ball inside more to 6-foot-9 forward Nebo and fellow reserves Isiah Jasey and John Walker, who combined to make 9 of 14 shots.
UC Irvine: The Anteaters stretched their road winning streak to six games after winning their last five away from home to end last season. Irvine’s zone defense limited A&M to 36-percent shooting. The Anteaters shot 55.2 percent (16 of 29) in the second half and 52.7 percent (29 of 55) overall.
A&M will hit the road for the first time this season, facing an early test at Gonzaga on Thursday.
UC Irvine will return home to play host to Life Pacific on Monday.
UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard is a grandson of Walt Hazzard, the former UCLA star who was national player of the year after helping the Bruins win the NCAA title in 1964 under legendary coach John Wooden. Max Hazzard’s brother Jacob played at Arizona. Hazzard led all scorers with 19 points, making 5 of 8 from beyond the 3-point line.
LATE WAKE UP CALL
The small crowd for a late-starting game got energized with less than six minutes left in the first half. A&M’s Isiah Jasey and Savion Flagg had back-to-back dunks (the first of the game) to spark a 16-9 run that gave the Aggies a 42-32 halftime lead.
Texas A&M was without projected starting guards Admon Gilder (hamstring, knee) and Wendell Mitchell (tendinitis), who both missed their second consecutive game due to injuries.
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