March 6, 2014
LAS VEGAS - Nick Stover's running lay-up with 32 seconds remaining snapped a 62-62 tie and his two free throws with 13 seconds left sealed a 67-64 win for LMU over Portland in the opening round of the 2014 West Coast Conference Championship Thursday at the Orleans Arena.
The opening round win marks the fourth time that the Lions have advanced in the WCC Championship in the six years under Head Coach Max Good. The Lions advance to the quarterfinals for the fifth straight year, joining Saint Mary's and Gonzaga as the only programs to do so in that time span. They will face BYU on Saturday, Mar. 8 in the second game of the day. Tip-off will be at roughly 2:30, 20 minutes following the conclusion of game one, which starts at noon.
Stover finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Evan Payne led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, while Anthony Ireland had 14 points and four assists. "I couldn't be more proud of this team," said a teary-eyed Head Coach Max Good after the game. "They keep fighting and keep fighting and keep fighting. They battle to the end. We were down twice by 12 points and yet we kept fighting. These group of guys lifts me up each and every day."
Portland (15-16), who swept the Lions in the regular season, was led by Bobby Sharp who finished with 18 points on 6-of-9 from three. Thomas Van Der Mar also had 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds and Ryan Nicholas finished with a 13-point, 11-rebound double double.
Finding themselves in a 48-35 hole after Portland opened the second half on a 18-4 run, the Lions began to mount their second comeback of the game. Ireland sank a pair of free throws to snap a four-minute dry spell and the Lions reeled off a 12-1 spurt, aided by four Portland turnovers, to pull within one, 49-48, with 7:17 remaining.
A Sharp three briefly slowed the Lions' run, but CJ Blackwell responded with back-to-back three-pointers courtesy Ireland assists to give LMU it's first lead of the half, 54-52, with 6:15 to go.
The lead would change hands four more times before Stover's layup at the 32-second mark gave LMU the lead they would not relinguish.
The Lions forced Portland into a season-high 20 turnovers, collecting 30 points off those giveaways. Meanwhile, the Lions, who entered the game averaging just 12.2 turnovers per game, the second lowest in program history, turned the ball over just eight times.
"With our injuries we have been forced to play zone some this season, but I really don't like to do that," said Good. "I prefer to play offensive defense and offensive offense. We are pretty good when we can play aggressive man-to-man defense. That made a big difference tonight."
Trailing by 9-2 early and by as many as 12, 19-7 with 11:39 to go in the first frame, the Lions mounted a ferocious first-half comeback. Sparked by full four pressure defense that forced Portland into seven turnovers, the Lions began to chip away.
A Payne layup followed by a Marin Mornar dunk off a Pilot turnover trimmed the deficit to seven, 21-14. After Volodymyr Gerun hit one of two free throws, Stover went to work for the Lions. The sophomore scored five straight, then swiping a steal and dished the ball off to Payne for an emphatic dunk that brought the Lions to within one, 22-21, at the 6:29 mark.
Nicholas momentarily stopped the bleeding for Portland, hitting a jumper in the lane. But Ireland would respond with a baseline fadeaway jumper and a pair of Gabe Levin free throws gave the Lions their first lead of the night, 25-24.
The Lions would lead for the remainder of the frame and carry a 31-30 advantage into the break.