By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., November 23, 2018 – It would have been easy to think that Miami had Fresno State right where the Hurricanes wanted in the 2018 Wooden Legacy. But nothing was easy at Titan Gym.
After being tied 12 times and with 11 lead changes, Miami didn’t emerge with a 78-76 victory until a rebound dunk by Zach Johnson with six-tenths of a second left.
That means the Hurricanes (5-0) will play Seton Hall on Sunday seeking their fifth ESPN Events tournament title and third under Coach Jim Larranaga. Fresno State (2-2) will meet Hawaii in the third-place game on Sunday afternoon.
“It was a great contest, they were very good and we played well and it came down to one possession and one missed shot that turned into a good offensive rebound dunk,” Larranaga said. “Zach had himself a great game and deserves a lot of credit for us winning this.”
Johnson, who scored 24 points to lead Miami, was trailing the play on the final possession. Guard Chris Lykes dribbled the clock down before taking a 3-point shot that bounced off the rim. Johnson soared in from the left side for a two-hand flush.
“I thought Chris had a great look, it was 6-8 seconds left,” Johnson said. “I know our best chance if he misses is to get on the offensive board and the ball clipped off my way and I just tapped it in.
“It means a lot. A lot of teams don’t get to play for championships throughout the season. Just to have the opportunity to play in the championship is great and it’s great for our team and our program and it’s a good feeling.”
Fresno State guard Braxton Huggins scored 20 of his game-high 28 points before halftime and Deshon Taylor had 14 of his 25 after halftime, but both were saddled with four fouls. But the Bulldogs kept the pressure on and Taylor tied the game at 76-76 with three free throws with 13 seconds to go.
“Yeah, I definitely did (think the game was going to overtime),” Huggins said. “That possession wasn’t the one that made us lose the game. Throughout the game we had silly turnovers, we had our pick-and-roll issues and our defense wasn’t that good. But the last couple of possessions weren’t the ones that made us lose the game.”
Seton Hall 64, Hawaii 54 – The Pirates proved they don’t need Myles Powell to score 40 points in order to win, the way they did in the first round. But they sure like having him around.
Seton Hall (3-2) committed only nine turnovers and shot better than 50 percent in the second half, when Powell had 12 of his game-high 19 points as the Pirates advanced to the championship game to face Miami.
“He’s got a ton of heart and he’s not going to lose confidence,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s going to keep shooting shots, he’s going to keep taking tough ones. He’s our workhorse and as he goes, we go.”
Powell became the 44 th player in school history to surpass the 1,000-point mark. Seton Hall committed only three turnovers in the second half and Hawaii could never catch up.
“Anthony Nelson came in for a really good six minute stretch,” Willard said. “For being a freshman point guard, I think he did a really good job of settling us down, working the pick and roll, hit and roll. His tempo was critical during the game.”
Forward Michael Nzei had 10 of his 16 points in the second half for the Pirates and Myles Cale added 10 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Guards Sheriff Drammeh and Eddie Stansbury had 14 points apiece for Hawaii (4-2), which will face Fresno State for third place.
“We all guard as a team,” Drammeh said of the matchup with Powell. “Whoever we play, no matter if you dropped 50 the night before, it’s a team coverage. We all had to put focus on him and take care of the rest of the guys. We had a great defensive effort tonight. It would have been different if we could have performed offensively.”
Northwestern 91, La Salle 74 – For the second straight game, the Wildcats ran into a team that could scramble them out of the gym. This time, Northwestern handled the pressure, led for all but 52 seconds, and advanced to the fifth-place game to meet Utah.
Guards Vic Law and Ryan Taylor each scored 21 points and forward A.J. Turner added 20 as Northwestern (4-1) handled the pressure from La Salle (0-6).
“I was really pleased with how we responded to yesterday,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “For 37 minutes we did a great job against their pressure and their traps. Those games aren’t easy to play; the whole game they’re trapping everything. They force you to just make basketball plays.
“We got a little bit tired the last few minutes which led to some turnovers but overall I’m pleased with the quick turnaround against a scrappy La Salle team. This was a big one for us.”
Taylor’s 3-pointer with 17:45 left in the first half broke a 5-5 and the Wildcats went on to build their lead to as many as 20 points 12 minutes into the second half. The Explorers continued to make Northwestern work the ball up the court and they committed 29 fouls, but the Wildcats answered by hitting 35 of 43 free throws.
Law went 14-for-16 at the line and also had eight rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes. Forward Dererk Pardo added 12 points and eight rebounds.
“It was a chaotic game and that’s how they play,” Collins said. “They have quickness and they play undersized a lot and they’re trying to make it that type of a game where nobody’s going to be able to run a set offense, it’s just going to be an open floor. You’ve got to handle pressure and beat traps and when you do, you’re going to have great opportunities to score and when you don’t, you’re going to turn it over.”
Guard Pookie Powell led La Salle with 23 points, forward Miles Brookins had 12 points and forward Jared Kimbrough chipped in 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting.
“We battled the entire game,” said first-year coach Ashley Howard, who gets a chance to win his first game at La Salle in the seventh-place game Sunday against Grand Canyon. “I felt we had lapses where we got fatigued because we were playing so hard, playing with a frenetic pace.”
Utah 75, Grand Canyon 66 – Guard Sedrick Barefield scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half, including several on beat-the-clock jumpers, and the Utes (3-2) held off the Lopes (3-3) to reach the fifth-place game.
Utah jumped out to a 16-point lead 11 minutes into the game, but Grand Canyon scratched back to pull within a point. But after a 3-pointer by Barefield, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak called a timeout and switched to a zone defense. The Lopes then went scoreless for 2 1/ 2 minutes.
“That was our defensive coordinator, Andy Hill, he’s probably the coach of the game,” Krystkowiak said. “I’m not sure what he saw in that situation. He talked about having a hard time guarding them in the post, we kept sending them to the foul line and we thought maybe that could take them out of that punch process of having to defend the paint.”
Barefield sealed matters with 1:55 left with a 3-pointer from the top while being fouled. He hit the free throw and Utah had restored its lead to 12 points.
Donnie Tillman scored 11 of his 14 points in the first half for Utah and forward Both Gach, in his first start of the season, had 10 points and made all eight of his free throws. Forward Riley Battin came off the bench to add 10 points.
“To hear from Coach is always good but the leaders of the team like Sedrick and Charles Jones, he got player of the game, he told us to talk, communicate, be energetic and have fun,” Tillman said. “I took that to heart and took it on myself to just be yelling every possession. Even if it was nonsense it will get us going, especially defensively.”
Forward Alessandro Lever led GCU with 16 points before fouling out. Guard Tim Finke added 14 and guard Trey Drechsel 10.
“We came out a little flat and for whatever reason, we couldn’t shoot it,” GCU coach Dan Majerle said. “Utah was good and we did a bad job so we dug ourselves a hole so we decided to start working a little harder, guard a little better and we fought our back into it.”