By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., November 25, 2018 – For 35-plus minutes, Seton Hall and Miami slugged it out like the 2018 Wooden Legacy was Monday Night Football in Los Angeles.
“I think that was bad defense,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.
Suddenly, the offensive fireworks stopped. Maybe the teams ran out of gas, but it was Seton Hall that had the juice at the end to score an 83-81 win to capture the tournament championship at Cal State Fullerton.
Down a point, Miami’s Anthony Lawrence had a 3-point try for the win, but it rolled out and the Pirates took home the trophy.
“The game is a matter of inches, a possession here, a possession there,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Myles Powell, the leading scorer of the event at 25.3 points per game, had 17 points, including seven in the final 7 ½ minutes. But the Pirates had to hold while missing the final six shots and going without a field goal over the final 4:48.
“Coach just told us to keep our heads up, keep fighting, we just needed to get a couple stops and down the stretch that’s what we did,” Powell said. “We stayed together.”
Forward Michael Nzei made all eight of his shots and led Seton Hall (4-2) with 21 points. The Pirates shot 52.3 percent from the field for the game.
The game was tied at 45-45 after the first in which the teams combined to shoot 61.4 percent.
“I’m just proud of the way the guys fought,” Willard said. “Coming in here 1-2, it was important we played well, and this group showed me a lot of toughness and that’s a very good Miami team.
“It’s important for these guys to realize when they play the way they’re capable of playing and play the way they practice – we didn’t play the way we practiced against Saint Louis – and it showed. It’s a good building block but we’ve still got a long, long way to go.”
Miami (5-1), denied its fifth ESPN Events title, shot even better at 54.5 percent but Larrañaga rued the one that got away.
“I felt like the game came down to assists vs. turnovers. We only had 11 assists and 16 turnovers,” he said. “There were a lot of bad decisions during the body of the game but with that being said, it was still just one made shot away from winning. The shot we got at the end was a beauty.”
Guards Zach Johnson and Chris Lykes led the Hurricanes with 18 points apiece. Lawrence added 17 points and center Ebuka Izundo had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks. But like Seton Hall, Miami also went cold in the final minutes; the Hurricanes’ last field goal came with 3:23 left.
“Like Coach said, down the stretch we kind of got sped up and made some hasty decisions,” Johnson said. “That put us in a tough position at the end of the game.”
Joining Powell on the all-tournament team were Nzei, Johnson, Northwestern guard Vic New and Fresno State guard Braxton Huggins.
Third place: Fresno State 79, Hawaii 64 – Bouncing back from a heartbreaking semifinal defeat, the Bulldogs (3-2) took control in the first half, then used a 12-0 run in the second half to put it away.
Guard Deshon Taylor scored 20 points and had five assists to lead four Fresno State players in double figures. Guard Braxton Higgins added 13 points, New Williams had 12 and Sam Bittner 11 and the Bulldogs made 11 of 20 3-pointers and shot 52 percent from the field. They were coming off a two-point semifinal loss to Miami when the Hurricanes scored in the final second on a rebound dunk.
“We watched the film and it showed us some things we did and things we needed to do better,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said. “Everybody listened and paid attention. I feel we said, ‘Let’s let it go now.’
“That’s college basketball and sports. You’ve got to be able to build into the next play and next game. The guys did some homework, went to Disneyland, came back and we got prepared for Hawaii in the evening, so it was time to put it past us.
Forward Jack Purchase led the Rainbow Warriors (4-3) with 14 points and forward Zigmars Raimo added 13. Forward Samuta Avea scored 11 off the bench and guards Drew Buggs and Brocke Stepteau each had 10.
“It was a tough game for us,” Hawaii coach Eran Ganot said. “We’re showing the flashes the potential of where we could be, but the inconsistencies are hurting us. That’s what’s great about these tournaments.”
Fifth place: Northwestern 79, Utah 57 – The Wildcats answered a poor shooting first half by blistering the nets in the second to emerge with two victories in the tournament. Guard Vic Law scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, when the Wildcats (5-1) made 17 of 27 shots (63 percent).
Center Dererk Pardon put a cap an efficient tournament by going 5-for-5 from the field for 15 points. In the last two games, he’s 8-for-8 and made 12 of his 14 shots in the event. Guard Ryan Taylor added 14 points and Anthony Gaines came off the bench to add 11.
“Our defense has got to be our calling card,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins, whose team forced 21 turnovers. “We have very good length, we have big guards and big wings. We also have an active big man in Pardon. We can be a team with deflections that can cause some turnovers and we did that at a high level today.”
Guard Sedrick Barefield scored 15 points to lead the Utes (3-3), who trailed but four at halftime but were blitzed by an 18-10 run to open the second half.
“They took us out of cuts. I don’t think we were playing very hard on offense in the first half,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Thirteen turnovers and yet we were only down four (at halftime), it was encouraging. Inability to handle pressure, wrong coverage, we just have to make some plays.”
Seventh place: Grand Canyon 82, La Salle 70 – Buoyed by a defense that kept La Salle scoreless for nearly nine minutes during a first-half stretch, the Lopes (4-3) picked up a victory behind forward Alessandro Lever’s 17 points and 10 rebounds.
GCU not only got its defense revved up during the 17-0 run, they limited the Explorers (0-7) to 21 percent shooting in the first half en route to a 31-20 lead at the break. During the run, La Salle missed 15 consecutive shots.
The Lopes also negotiated the constant pressing and trapping from La Salle and found some easy baskets. They shot 54.2 percent from the field for the game.
“We wanted to concentrate on our defense because we haven’t been good defensively, the way that we want to play,” GCU coach Dan Majerle said. “That’s been the talking point the last day or so of what we did wrong in the first two games defensively and we wanted to make sure we came out and locked down defensively.”
Guard Isiah Deas scored a game-high 22 points for La Salle, which is still looking for its first victory for first-year coach Ashley Howard. Guard Pookie Powell added 15 points and forward Miles Brookins, from nearby Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We just missed open shots,” Howard said. “I thought we had good looks, the ball just didn’t go in the basket. Our freshman Jared Kimbrough, another game where he gets two quick fouls. We need him in the game, we’re going to work with him on defending with intelligence and not fouling.”