No. 13-Ranked Tommies Hold Off Pacific Lutheran Challenge

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Pacific Lutheran could not hold off a St. Thomas second-half comeback and the PLU men's basketball team lost its first contest of the Puget Sound Tipoff Classic, 73-70, Friday.

The No. 13 nationally-ranked Tommies recorded seven unanswered points with two minutes remaining in the game, taking away a PLU lead and providing the Lutes with a 71-67 deficit. Quickly trying to form a comeback, the Lutes came within three points of the Tommies after James Conti hit a free throw and nailed a jumper.

With 39 seconds left and the Lutes down 73-70, Victor Bull ripped down a critical rebound, giving PLU a chance to tie.  After two ensuing timeouts by each team, Kyle MacTaggart got the ball in his hands and took a quick three that fell short. The Tommies gained possession after another PLU missed three-point attempt.

With time running out, the Lutes forced a jump ball situation and regained possession of the ball. MacTaggart took control of the ball after the inbound pass, spun to his right to within three-point range, but slipped and lost the ball.

"(The Tommies) are very good team," said head coach Steve Dickerson. "They're just not going to get beat, which is the mentality we have to develop as this program moves along."

Trailing 43-29, the Tommies changed their defense to open the second half, using full court pressure to create problems for the Lutes. Nonetheless, after leading by as many as 16 points in the first half, PLU took a 56-41 advantage on Kai Hoyt's three-point play with 14:11 remaining.

The Tommies answered with an 18-2 run with the help of more strong defensive pressure from their full court press that forced four consecutive PLU turnovers. St. Thomas took its first lead of the game, 59-58, on Tyler Nicolai's long three-point basket with 8:32 left to play.

At the 6:33 mark, MacTaggart delivered a clutch three-pointer for the Lutes, bringing PLU within one point of the Tommies. Victor Bull then tied the game, 64-64, hitting one of two free throws with 5:44 left in the game. Conti was sent to the line on the next possession and made one of his two free throws, putting the Lutes up by one.

PLU fended off the St. Thomas offense for two more possessions and with 4:23 left, Cameron Schilling made two crucial free throws, giving the Lutes a 67-64 lead.

That's when the Tommies began their victory comeback.

"The big thing was we had four straight possessions when we were ahead when we just took the first shot available," Dickerson said. "You've got to learn that there's a time and a place to score." 

Conti led the Lutes in scoring with 21 points and four assists. He shot 6-for-11 from the floor with a three-pointer and 8-for-10 from the free throw line. Bull earned a double-double after grabbing a game-leading 10 rebounds and scoring 11 points. He also two blocks and a steal. Earnest Andrew provided PLU with 10 points. Hoyt scored six points off the bench including a jump shot that ended a St. Thomas scoring streak.

Nicolai scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to lead the St. Thomas comeback. Alex Healy scored all 12 of his points in the final period, while Peter Leslie finished with 17 points, including 13 in the opening half. Tommy Hannon led the Tommies with seven rebounds, though the Lutes ended up winning that battle, 31-24.

PLU will play the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs tomorrow at 6 p.m. for the Lutes' second game of the UPS Tipoff Classic.