Fresno State held the lead over UC Irvine for most of the game – but couldn’t hold it through to the end.
The Anteaters (5-6) pulled away in the final minutes, edging out the Bulldogs Saturday at the Save Mart for a 58-51 win.
Trailing 51-46 with 3:34 to play, the Anteaters went on a second-half rally and scored the game’s final 12 points.
“You’re up five at the end of the ball game,” Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry said. “You’ve got to close it out.”
“I think it gets down to urgency. I think it gets down to guys understanding that until we take the next step in this program and understanding how important it is to finish out games – and we talk about finishing all the time.
“We’ve got older guys at the end of the game not understanding the urgency to finish out games right now.”
Chris McNealy led UC Irvine with 13 points and Damon Starring added eight points – all in the second half – for the Anteaters.
Starring made two free throw shots after a foul by Bulldogs guard Tyler Johnson to give the Anteaters a 55-51 lead with 33 seconds left.
Fresno State also had a 21-15 lead in the first half off a Tanner Giddings jumper, but wasn’t able to maintain it on a night that saw the Bulldogs shoot 25.5 percent from the field.
“Coach said it best, it’s just disappointing,” said Johnson, who had 10 points and three steals on the night.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game – up five, three minutes to go. The coaches aren’t out there making plays – it’s the players. Coach puts the players on the floor that he feels give the best chance to win the game. He put the older group out there, and still, nobody stepped up.”
The Bulldogs’ second-half lead peaked as high as 10 points after Kevin Foster knocked a jumper to give them a 32-22 advantage.
Fresno State (5-6) held a 23-19 lead over the Anteaters at halftime, but made only 5-of-22 shots from the field in the second half.
Freshman center Robert Upshaw had seven points, four blocks and six rebounds, though was a nonfactor in the final minutes of play after committing a technical foul, his fourth and final personal foul, with eight minutes to play.
Allen Huddleston led Fresno State with 12 points and Kevin Olekaibe scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
Fresno State plays UCLA on the road Saturday – its third Pac-12 opponent this season. UC Irvine lost 80-79 in overtime to the Bruins, then-ranked No. 13, on Nov. 13.
Olekaibe surpassed the 1,000-point mark in his career against the Anteaters and the Bulldogs played their 150th game at the Save Mart Center. Fresno State is one win away from reaching 100 wins at the Save Mart Center.