Malibu, Calif. - Despite rallying for a late lead, the Tigers could not overcome a nearly 20-point difference on the free throw line at the Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu as Pepperdine took an 81-76 win on Thursday, Jan. 7. The loss for Pacific (3-11) marked its fourth-straight loss to the Waves (9-6) as the Tigers fell to 2-3 in WCC play while Pepperdine improved to 2-2.
In all, the Tigers saw the Waves shoot a season-best 31-of-38 from the line while attempting just 15 (12-of-15) free throws of their own. The Tigers were led by junior T.J. Wallace who scored a season-best 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting but saw their star outdone by the Waves' Lamond Murray Jr. who scored a career-best 31 points. Murray Jr. took advantage of the one-sided free throw affair to hit 12-of-13 from the line, matching the Tigers on his own from the stripe. The Tigers would finish shooting 49.2% for the game, outshooting the Waves by nearly 10 percentage points as Pepperdine shot 40.0% from the field.
Finding an early rhythm, the Tigers jumped on the Waves in the first four minutes of the contest, scoring 10 quick points thanks to five each out of Wallace and Tonko Vuko. The two would hit the Tigers' first two threes of the game on consecutive trips down the court after their seven-footer, Sami Eleraky shutdown the rim defensively on the other end to set up the scores. The junior center would finish his night with three blocks while altering a handful of other Waves' attempts. The six quick points were part of a 10-1 run by Pacific.
The Waves would respond with a 7-0 run of their own to tie the game, kicking off a back-and-forth that saw the game open up and the two sides trade shots on either end. Pacific would use the free flow to reestablish a slight edge over the Waves who were able to keep the Tigers from breaking away despite a nearly 60% shooting percentage early.
Unable to build their lead the Tigers began to cool from the floor allowing the Waves to take advantage. Using another 7-0 run, Pepperdine took its first lead in over 10 minutes at the score flipped in the home team's favor at 28-27 with 5:11 remaining in the half. The Waves would push the run to 10-unanswered points and the lead to four at 31-27 with just under four to play before the Tigers finally broke their dry spell with a pair of short jumpers from Ray Bowles.
Despite closing to within one the Tigers' achilles heel showed itself late as the Waves knocked down a pair of open threes and beat the buzzer with a layup to grow their advantage to eight at the halftime break. After beginning the half 9-of-16 from the floor, the Tigers' finished the half just 3-of-10 from the field which allowed the Waves to go on a 9-2 run in the frame's final two minutes.
Out of the break the Tigers had a chance to erase the halftime deficit, but a pair of missed threes and another big three from the Waves', this time from Murray Jr., swelled the lead to nine just two minutes in. Despite the missed opportunity early, the Tigers continued their surge, pulling to within three at 46-43 when Wallace knocked down his second three of the game as part of a quick six points to start the half.
Again, the surge was stymied for the Tigers as the Waves matched Pacific's 6-0 run with a 7-0 run of their own, growing the lead to double-digits at 53-43 with 13:11 to play in the game. Every time the Tigers would make a run at the Waves Murray Jr. had an answer as the junior doubled his season total from behind the arc going three-for-three from deep to start before finally missing.
Not to be denied, the Tigers continued to press and spread the ball around, mixing the scoring as eight different Pacific players put the ball in the basket over the next five minutes of play to bring the Tigers back to within just one at 60-59 after the third media timeout. Moments later the Tigers finally got over the hump on a layup by Vuko on a slick feed from Bowles that capped a 20-9 run to put Pacific back in the lead at 63-62 with 5:36 to play.
From there, the two sides would trade baskets with the lead changing hands three times in the span of :33 seconds from 1:23 to :50 before the Waves sealed the game from the charity stripe. In the end, the Tigers saw Pepperdine score its final 11 points from the line as the Waves went 19-of-20 in the second half alone despite entering the game as a 62% free throw shooting team.
Overall, Pacific had two players score in double figures in Wallace and Vuko. Vuko shook off a rough start to the WCC season with a 14-point effort in Malibu. Wallace ended his night as the Tigers' leading rebounder as well as the junior grabbed seven to go along with one assist.
Behind Murray Jr., who also added 10 rebounds to his 31 points, the Waves put two others in double figures as their big three all reached the 10-point threshold in the first half. Stacy Davis finished the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year while Jett Raines added 20 points. Both Davis and Raines netted nine free throws a piece as the trio accounted for 30 of the 31 free throws made by the Waves.
The win for the Waves improved their home record to a perfect 6-0 on the year, their best home start since the 2004-05 season.
The Tigers remain on the road in Southern California as Pacific heads to Loyola Marymount on Saturday, Jan. 9. The afternoon tilt with the Lions is scheduled for 3:00 pm at Gersten Pavilion.