March 4, 2011
LAS VEGAS--After a season of close calls that didn't bounce their way in the closing seconds, LMU men's basketball picked the best time to take one for themselves as they defeated the University of Portland, 72-68, in the first round of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball Championships Friday night at Orleans Arena.
Junior Drew Viney scored more than 20 points for the fifth straight game, scoring 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, hitting 4-of-5 from long distance, to lead all scorers. Senior Vernon Teel had 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals, while freshman Anthony Ireland score 12 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Portland was led by Jared Stohl with 23 points and Nemanjoa Mitrovic with 14.
"We have been so close in conference all season, just seeing games slip away in the final seconds," said Head Coach Max Good, whose Lions went 1-7 in games decided in the final 30 seconds or overtime. "The last time we played Portland, it was our worst game of the season. We stunk. We knew we were better than that, and they never stopped working. Tonight they really came together. So many players contributed to the win."
Larry Davis finished the game off the bench with nine points, scoring the Lions' final four points in the closing 27 seconds, including a pair of key free throws to give the Lions a four-point edge, 70-66. Godwin Okonji had a career-high 11 rebounds as the Lions outrebound Portland 31-29.
With the win, the Lions (11-20) advance to the quarterfinals and will face Santa Clara at 6 p.m., Saturday. The game can be seen on BYUtv, ESPN3.com and ESPN Full Court. It will also be on KXLU 88.9 FM and LMULions.com.
The Lions become the first eight-seed in the current tournament format to advance to the quarterfinals. In fact, the last eight seed to win in the WCC tournament was LMU in 1997 when the eight seed played the one seed.
The Pilots took both games in the regular season, including a double-overtime affair in Portland Jan. 13. In the two games, Luke Sikma combined to score 45 points with 24 rebounds, going for double-doubles in both contests while shooting 18-for-29 from the field.
On Friday, the Lions shutdown Sikma, holding him to just six points, all from the free throw line, and allowing him to have just one field goal attempt.
"Sikma is one of the best post players in this league, if not the best," said Good. "He has really killed us this season. Tonight, we really shut him down. To hold him to just one field goal attempt, that is really impressive."
The game started up-tempo, as the Lions posted a 40-37 lead at the break, scoring at least 40 points in the first half for just the fifth time this season. They improved to 4-1 in those games. Viney and Stohl started early, scoring 13 and 11, respectively, to pace the offense for both teams.
The Lions led 61-57 after Viney hit a rare four-point play with 10:19 to play. Mitrovic then answered right back to cut the lead to 61-60 with 10:10 play.
Defense then clamped down for the Lions, as they held Portland to just eight points the remainder of the game as they hit just 3-of-10 from the field and the front-end of a one-and-one.
The lead would change three times before Anthony Ireland's three-pointer from the top of the key gave the Lions a 66-64 lead with 7:30 to play. Both teams would go over two minutes without a point.
Stohl would break the drought, hitting a jumper with 5:05 to play to tie the score at 66-66. Ireland would attempt another three with 4:11 to play and miss, but Teel would snatch up the rebound. Just over 31 seconds later, Teel would give the Lions the lead for good 68-66.
Another drought by both teams, this one over three minutes, would keep the Lions' edge at two. In the stretch, the Lions would grab three offensive rebounds, the last one coming by Hamilton with 32 seconds left, resetting the shot clock and turning it off the rest of the game.
Forced to foul, Portland put Davis at the line for a one-and-one, where he drilled both for a 70-66 lead with 27 seconds left. Portland's Derrick Rodgers would hit two free throws to cut the lead to 70-68 with 13 seconds left.
Viney and Davis would combined to ice the win, as on the inbound Viney found Davis streaking all alone down the court of an uncontested lay-up.
The teams would combine for just 18 turnovers (nine each) and the game featured 12 ties and 14 lead changes. The Lions shot 49.1 percent from the field, and an even better 47.1 percent from the three-point line. Portland finished 48 percent from the field, but the Lions held them to just 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) from three. The Pilots entered the game averaging 7.7 three-pointers per game (second in WCC) on 42.0 percent (tops in the WCC).
"Our defense was solid tonight," said Viney. "You have to give credit to our bigs, they really did a good job in frustrating their post players and getting us rebounds. That was huge."