Strong Finish Down The Stretch Pushes Pacific Past San Diego

Ilias Theodorou - Photo by: Sean Kahler
Ilias Theodorou - Photo by: Sean Kahler

Stockton, Calif. - Tense down the stretch, the Tigers kept their cool and outpaced the red-hot Toreros, winners of five of their last six, to take a 77-75 win at home at the Spanos Center to close out the 2015 calendar year. Pacific (3-9) improved to 2-1 in WCC play while San Diego (5-7) dropped its conference opener after sitting out the opening weekend of WCC action last week.

In the win, the Tigers put four in double-figures led by their redshirt-sophomore, Ray Bowles, who scored a game-best 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Pacific shot a season-best 54.9% from the floor in the win while holding the Toreros to 34.4% shooting. 

After trading 8-0 runs to start the game in the first eight minutes of play, the Tigers used their second 8-0 run of the opening half to take control of the contest as Pacific grew its lead to as much as 10 points three-quarters of the way through the first stanza. Despite the strong start, the Tigers succumbed to foul trouble in the first half which forced Pacific to go small with their bigs sent to the bench.

Using Tonko Vuko as their center, the Tigers saw their lead shrink to just three points in two minutes time when San Diego took advantage of Pacific's lack of size inside and around the rim. Undeterred by the sudden shift, the Tigers used their small lineup to pick up the pace of the game over the final three minutes of the half, turning their three-point lead back into a three-possession advantage by halftime. The Tigers closed the half on a 7-1 run thanks to Bowles, who scored four of his nine first half points on back-to-back trips down the floor in the half's final minutes. If not for foul trouble and a rash of turnovers, the Tigers could have taken a double-digit lead into the break. However, Pacific committed 12 turnovers in the half, more than their game totals from the previous two contests to start WCC play.

Leading 34-25 at the break, the Tigers let the Toreros back into the game in the second half with four early turnovers and more foul trouble that turned the free-run of the first half finish into a bogged down, ugly affair to start the final half. Finding their rhythm from behind the arc and at the free throw line, the Toreros finally caught the Tigers from behind just eight minutes into the half when Cameron Neubauer drilled San Diego's third three of the half to cap a 17-8 run.

Moments later, San Diego would take its first lead of the game on a breakaway layup after the fifth turnover of the half by the Tigers set up the easy score. From there the two teams would trade baskets until the Toreros broke the back-and-forth with a pair of buckets at the rim to push their lead to five at 56-51, their largest lead of the night. 

Staring a repeat of the previous game that spun out of control late, the Tigers buckled down and protected the ball, finishing the final 7:13 of the game without a turnover which in turn helped the Tigers reign in the Toreros. In just under two minutes of game time, the Tigers ran down the Toreros, turning the five-point deficit in to a four-point lead thanks to a 9-0 run that was sparked by T.J. Wallace. The junior guard, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half, came up with four quick points for Pacific on consecutive possessions to cut the Toreros' lead to just one before Ilias Theodorou put Pacific ahead to stay with a three-pointer from the left angle with 6:06 to play. The three by Theodorou was his third of the game giving the big Greek a career-best 12 points.

The Tigers would swell their lead to as much as eight with :43 seconds remaining in the game on a dunk by Bowles before holding off the Toreros from the line.

In all, the Tigers finished 17-of-26 from the stripe with Bowles hitting 7-of-10 to lead the way. The Toreros would hit 25-of-33 from the line to take advantage of 28 Tiger fouls in the game.

Outside of Bowles, Wallace, and Theodorou, Jacob Lampkin ended his night in double-figures with 10 points, all coming in the second half as he scored eight of Pacific's first 10 points out of the lockerroom. On the glass, Wallace finished one rebound shy of a double-double in the books as he posted nine of Pacific's 39 rebounds to go with three steals and one block.

For the Toreros, Vada Pusica tallied a team-best 15 points including hitting a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer to make the end score just a two-point game. Two other San Diego players reached double-figures with Jito Kok and Neubauer each netting 11 in the loss. 

The Tigers will look for their first winning-streak of the season on Saturday, Jan. 2, when they kick off the new year with a tilt against BYU. The midday contest at the Spanos Center is scheduled for a 3:07 tip due to regional television picking up the game.