In his ongoing quest to see that his team remains hungry, UC Irvine Coach Russell Turner saw his Anteaters gorge themselves at both ends on the first day of a three-day men's basketball buffet known as the 2K Sports Classic Irvine subregional.
The Anteaters, who shot 55% from the field to extend its streak of hitting at least 50% to all five games this season, were as impressive as they have been on defense in an 84-64 home triumph over LIU Brooklyn on Friday night.
The Blackbirds (1-2), who lost by one at No. 23-ranked Indiana earlier this season, made just 21 of 61 field-goal attempts (34.4%) and were bested, 44-29, in the rebounding department as UCI extended its winning streak to three.
The Anteaters (3-2) will face Boston University (2-2) in Saturday's second game of the three-game round-robin format that simulates what could be a successful run through the Big West Conference Tournament in March.
"We were better defensively tonight than we've been for long stretches and that's the key to being good," Turner said after his team bolted to an 18-point halftime lead and led by as many as 31. "I'm happy that our guys have accepted the challenge to be good, defensively, despite the fact that we are a talented offensive team. It's hard to figure out how to attack us if we take away three-pointers as well as we did tonight"
LIU Brooklyn finished six for 19 from three-point range (31.6%) and had seven of its shots inside the arc blocked.
Mamadou Ndiaye, UCI's 7-foot-6 freshman center, had three blocks and five rebounds to go with his 12 points.
Junior Will Davis, who had 11 of his 12 points in the opening half, had two blocks to become the school's all-time leader in that department. Davis now has 150 career rejections, one better than Adam Parada.
The stingy defense did nothing to take away from the Anteaters' offense, as the unselfish hosts collected 25 assists on 33 field goals and turned 15 offensive rebounds into 24 second-chance points, 10 more than the Blackbirds were able to record.
"Sometimes our execution was pretty doggone good," Turner said. "But we're not there yet."
Turner will be more impressed if his team can carry its high level through the three games in three days, something if failed at last March, when after upsetting top-seeded Long Beach State in the conference tournament semifinals, it fell to Pacific in the title game, missing the NCAA Tournament yet again.
Davis added eight rebounds and three assists, while senior Chris McNealy had 15 points to lead the winners, 12 of which came before intermission. Davis played just 22 minutes and McNealy, who was six for eight from the field, including two for three from threedom, played only 18.
All 14 Anteaters worked up a sweat, and all but two of them scored, allowing Turner to stockpile some fresh legs for the rest of the three-day grind.
Ndiaye, who played just 18 minutes, made all five of his field-goal attempts, all within sneezing distance of the rim, including three dunks.
Freshman guard Luke Nelson made four of seven field-goal tries, including a pair of acrobatic transition layups, on his way to 10 points.
Sophomore Dominique Dunning had seven of his nine points in the first 20 minutes, while sophomore Mike Best had eight points and four rebounds and made four of six field-goal attempts.
Junior Travis Souza and sophomore Aaron Wright both had three points and four assists, nearly matching the total provided by the nation's assist leader — Blackbirds' senior Jason Brickman, whose six assists were less than half his season average (12.5).
UC Irvine 84, LIU Brooklyn 64
LUIB – Atterberry 14, Reed 5, Parga 10, Martin 8, Brickman 2, Carter 9, Feidanga 9, Joseph 7.
3-pt. goals – Atterberry 2, Reed 1, Parga 1, Joseph 1, Carter 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
UCI – Davis 12, Ndiaye 12, McNealy 15, Nelson 10, Young 2, Dunning 9, Best 8, Dimakopoulos 5, Souza 3, McConnell 3, Wright 3, Ryan 2.
3-pt. goals – McNealy 2, Souza 1, McConnell 1, Dimakopoulos 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCI, 46-28.