In the first twenty minutes everything seemed to go right for the Sam Houston State Bearkats.
Despite being out matched by UC Irvine's elite size, the Bearkats rebounded like hell, finished around the rim, and pestered UC Irvine on the defensive end to grab a surprising early lead.
But in the second half, UC Irvine's length, shot making, and play making ability rose to another level to grind past Sam Houston State 63-53 in the opening game of the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational.
UC Irvine started cold from the field, with a 4-for-14 mark from the field and turned it over five times to allow the Bearkats to take a 15-9 lead after the under eight minute media timeout of the first half.
Josh DeLaney would knock down a deep three pointer for SHSU to stretch the lead to 23-13 at the 4:15 mark of the second half. UC Irvine was finally able to get going in the final couple of minutes of the half and trim the lead to 30-25 at halftime.
The Anteaters would outscore the Bearkats 21-8 to open the second half as Luke Nelson came off a screen to drill a three pointer at the 9:10 mark of the second to put UC Irvine ahead 46-38.
A few minutes later Nelson would sink another three pointer, then Jaron Martin swished a 3-ball from the corner to give the Anteaters a 53-43 lead and force a SHSU timeout with 7:03 left to play.
Sam Houston State had two chances to trim the lead to under six in the final three minutes, but were unable to capitalize due to some difficult to handle UC Irvine defense. Sam Houston State turned it over 13 times which led to 16 UC Irvine points off turnovers in the contest.
UC Irvine shot 1-of-9 from behind the three point line, and also shot 29.2 percent from the field in the first half, but shot 55.6 percent from the field and 4-of-10 from deep to complete the second half turnaround.
Luke Nelson tied for game high honors with 16 points, Mike Best added 14 points for UC Irvine who improves to 9-4.
Aurimas Majauskas continues his strong stretch of games with 16 points, and eight rebounds, Torry Butler chipped in 10 points, and six rebounds, but SHSU shot 30 percent in the second half, and 4-for-15 from behind the three point for the game.
UC Irvine will now take on the winner of the UTEP vs. Norfolk State game at 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time tomorrow. Sam Houston State will see the loser at 5:00 p.m.