Middle Tennessee State’s Shawn Jones dove head-first through the UCLA bench and into the front row seats for a loose ball, letting out a “Thwack!” that echoed throughout the hollow Los Angeles Sports Arena. His teammates rushed to lend him a hand, but before they could get there, Jones bounced right back up.
A couple of chairs weren’t going to stop the Blue Raiders. Neither was the UCLA men’s basketball team, which looked just as listless.
The 86-66 blowout loss kept a reeling UCLA team winless, and the fall from momentary grace has been swift. Since opening the season ranked No. 17 in the country, the Bruins (0-2) have put up consecutive sloppy performances, particularly on the defensive end.
The Blue Raiders used a mixture of 3-pointers and layups, with little in-between. They made their first nine 3s, momentarily tying an NCAA record for most made without a miss, and finished 10-of-11.
“Never seen it,” senior point guard Jerime Anderson said.
Even on their one miss from deep, MTSU found the offensive rebound for a putback layup.
“That was a very embarrassing score,” coach Ben Howland said.
“I’ve never had a team allow a team to shoot 71 percent from the field. That’s incredible.”
The Blue Raiders extended their eight-point halftime lead to 17 before UCLA freshman guard Norman Powell went on a personal 6-0 to cut the deficit to 10. MTSU called timeout, then proceeded to hit another wide-open 3-pointer that deflated UCLA and the 4,758 that sparsely filled the Sports Arena.
Howland, a defensive fundamentalist, went through a laundry list of issues post-game.
“Way too many breakdowns,” Howland said. “That’s just a mental thing, staying disciplined, staying true to your defense.”
“To tell you the truth … it’s us that we have to figure out,” said sophomore center Joshua Smith, who limped to his postgame press conference with his right ankle wrapped in ice after re-spraining it in the game.
A day after suspending junior forward Reeves Nelson indefinitely, Howland didn’t think his presence would have affected the outcome. Howland added that he met with Nelson and his mother, Sheila, for more than an hour Monday night, with Nelson’s father Brian on speakerphone.
Howland and Reeves Nelson will meet one-on-one today as Nelson’s future with the Bruins hangs in the balance.
Asked what he expected out of Nelson, the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, Howland said, “Just an understanding that he’s got a lot of things that need to improve in terms of coachability, attitude, interacting with his teammates, representing the university the way we expect to be represented. We’ll have a long talk concerning a lot of different issues.”
Anderson, who returned from his suspension Tuesday, expressed his support for Nelson.
“I love Reeves,” Anderson said. “I hope he comes back.”
Without Nelson on Tuesday night, UCLA dropped to 0-2 for the first time since Steve Lavin’s final year as coach in 2002-03.
“We’re not very good right now, that’s obvious,” Howland said.