Anaheim, Calif. - The Pacific men's basketball team advanced to the Championship Game of the DirecTV Classic with a 76-66 victory over Saint Mary's on Friday, Nov. 23. With the win, the Tigers improved to 3-2 on the season, while Saint Mary's dropped to 4-1. Pacific will face the winner of the Georgia Tech/California game on Sunday, Nov. 25 at 6:00 p.m. live on ESPN2.
"Today was a great team effort and I thought our toughness showed the whole game," said head coach Bob Thomason. "They did a great job sharing the ball and different guys stepped up and scored. Hopefully this gives us confidence the rest of the season."
Junior Ross Rivera got the Tigers going with a pair of jumpers to take a 4-0 lead. Saint Mary's responded with three three-pointers in an 11-5 run to take an 11-9 lead. Junior Trevin Harris hit his fifth straight three-pointer of the tournament to give the Tigers the lead back at 12:11 with 14:33 to play. Leading 18-17, the Tigers scored on jumpers by senior Travis Fulton and junior Tony Gill to take a 22-17 lead with 8:22 to go. After a basket by junior Sama Taku put the lead back to five (24-19), the Gaels scored four straight to again make it a one point game. Senior Lorenzo McCloud hit a baseline jumper with just over a minute left to give the Tigers a 32-29 halftime lead.
Each team hit a pair of free throws to open the second half, before a Brad Waldow layup cut the Tigers' lead to 34-33. Junior Khalil Kelley fueled a 20-4 run over the next eight minutes with eight points as the Tigers took a commanding 54-37 lead with 8:42 remaining in the game. Kelley scored in a variety of ways, with a pair of free throws, a tip-in, a dunk and a hook shot. Pacific was able to push the lead to 19 (58-39) before Saint Mary's came roaring back. Beau Levesque hit a pair of three-pointers in a 10-1 run as the Gaels cut the lead to 59-49 with 4:21 to play. Taku hit a a jumper and McCloud knocked down a pair of free throws to get the lead back to 63-49 with 2:48 to play, but the Gaels wouldn't go away. Saint Mary's hit three three-pointers in the next minute to take the Tiger lead to 65-58 with 1:29 to go. A Tiger turnover gave the Gaels a chance to cut it to four, but a Stephen Holt three attempt was off the mark. The Tigers went 11-12 from the free throw line in the final 1:14 to seal the victory.
McCloud led the Tigers with 18 points, while Rivera added 14 points. Kelley scored a season-high 12 points, while Taku added 11 points and had six rebounds. Taku and Fulton each grabbed six rebounds. Levesque had 18 points to lead Saint Mary's.
The Tigers shot 53.1% from the field, while Saint Mary's finished at 41.8%. The teams were nearly even in turnovers (Saint Mary's 12, Pacific 11), but the Tigers outscored the Gaels 18-8 in points off of turnovers. The Tigers took a season-low six three-point attempts, hitting three. Pacific had a 34-24 rebounding advantage, including 22-11 in the second half.
"It feels great having that momentum and getting the big lead was great," said McCloud. "Our team is unselfish and when we share the ball it makes it easier for everyone to score and makes it harder on the defense."
"The past couple of games I wasn't playing aggressively," said Rivera. "I had to be more aggressive in the first half and I was. I think this is a great confidence booster for us. If we keep this going, it will be great for our team."
The Tigers will face Georgia Tech or California on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. in the championship game of the DirecTV Classic. The game will be televised by ESPN2.