Head coach Donny Daniels stormed off the court as the buzzer sounded and the 1,208 fans in Titan Gym roared with approval.
It is the second time in as many games the Titans (4-8 overall, 2-1 in the Big West) have won in overtime, in large part by the heroics of Holmes.
“The first two years we lost every game like that,” Daniels said. “I guess this year what goes around comes around. I don’t know.”
Holmes played 40 minutes and was the only Titan in double digits scoring 23 points but none bigger than the final three in the final seconds.
With five seconds left in overtime and the Titans down two, Anthony Bolton rebounded a missed free throw by UCI freshman Mike Efevberha and then tossed the ball to Holmes who took it the length of the court. He jump stopped at the free throw line and floated the ball towards the rim. Five defenders converged on him and the ref blew the whistle as the ball bounced off the backboard into the basket.
Holmes momentum led him into the stands where he received hugs and hi-fives from fans that jumped out of their seats to greet him.
Bolton, who finished with nine points, pleaded with the crowd to quiet down for the free throw attempt, signaling with his hands pushing them in a downward motion.
Holmes snarled and stared at the basket before collecting himself for the shot.
“I was just trying to get it up,” Holmes said. “I just wanted to get one rotation and shoot it.”
The ball rattled on top of the rim before finally falling through.
“He can go out and get a shot,” Daniels said. “He can be erratic sometimes. But he can break somebody down.”
Holmes, who in the last two games has earned the title “go-to-guy,” sounded as if he was receiving an Academy Award for his performance.
“I just want to thank my teammates for letting me shoot and having confidence in me,” Holmes said.
The 6-foot-4-inch guard’s game-winning heroics erased what could have been a devastating loss.
“We’re six seconds away from being a down locker room,” Daniels said he told his team in the huddle. “We haven’t done any thing. All we’ve done is blow a lead.”
An Amir Bar-Netzer lay-up with 8:09 remaining in regulation put the Titans up by 12 points. But missed lay-ups and foul shots coupled with timely three point shooting by UC Irvine guard Ross Schraeder dwindled the lead, as the Anteaters eventually tied the game at 57 with a jump shot by Jordan Harris at the end of regulation.
“Nobody was talking to anybody in the last two minutes,” Daniels said, acting out a look of confusion the players had on the court. “Everybody gets tight in crunch time.”
The Titans arms seemed to tense up at the free throw line where they shot 9-for-17
for the game giving the Anteaters a chance.
“We made a good comeback,” said UC Irvine head coach Pat Douglass. “But they pretty much out hustled us. We should have won in overtime.”
The Titan defense was effective early in the game as they forced turnovers and denied the ball to Irvine center Adam Parada. But Irvine came back with Parada in the second half and he led all scorers with a quiet 25 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
“We’re better than our record indicates,” Holmes said. “The games we did lose, we beat ourselves. But we can’t let these two victories go to our head. We have to play every game like it’s our last.”
The Titans will use this as a “lesson learned with a win” according to Daniels, a lesson they are hoping to apply when they host Long Beach State on Saturday.
“It’s cool to celebrate now,” Holmes said. “But tomorrow
we have practice and we’re back to zero and zero. That’s our record
before every game.”