Middle Tennessee State made an summer afternoon in Death Valley look frigid in its 86-66 EA Sports Maui Invitational opening round victory over UCLA men's basketball on Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The Blue Raiders improved to 3-0 after shooting a sizzling 71.4 percent from the field. MTSU made 35-of-49 field goals and flirted with the NCAA record book before missing out despite making an impressive 10 of 11 3-pointers. UCLA doesn't track defensive field goal percentage but if it did, it's hard to imagine they've surrendered worse under Coach Ben Howland, who called the score embarrassing.
"I've never had a team allow a team to shoot 71 percent," Howland said. "We broke down a lot of times, leaving open shooters."
It was a tough night for the Bruins, who fell to 0-2, despite a solid performance from center Joshua Smith, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. UCLA trailed for the final 38 minutes of the game and failed on the defensive end.
"It doesn't matter what defense we play," Smith said. "It's going to take the effort of all five guys. We need five people out there playing defense for 35 seconds at a time. We're still working on that."
MTSU had five players score in double figures, and center LaRon Dendy led the way with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
While UCLA couldn't pick up a stop, they also struggled to make a shot. The Bruins shot 37 percent and made 4 of 20 3-pointers. Guards Lazeric Jones, De'End Parker and Jerime Anderson combined to make just 7 of 23 shots, but Howland credited Norman Powell, who finished with nine points on 4 of 7 shooting, with a strong second half performance.
"He's shown he deserves to play minutes," Howland said of Powell. "He's been a bright spot in both games combined."
Twins David and Travis Wear continued to look inconsistent and rusty as they work their way back into playing shape after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Travis finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals, while David had just six points and two rebounds in 32 minutes.
Howland also said he met with suspended forward Reeves Nelson and his parents on a conference call and is scheduled to speak to him 1-on-1 to determine the mercurial junior's future with the team.
Anderson, who finished with nine points, including a 4-point play, and six assists, said the poor start puts a damper on their upcoming trip to Hawaii.
"We're excited to go out there, but it's all business for us," he said. "We've got to go out there to play games and win games, not hang out on the beach and see pretty girls."