Gaels, Bobcats in Classic title game
After reaching a coaching landmark, Randy Bennett's focus turned immediately to trying to win a championship.
Bennett became Saint Mary's winningest coach with an 89-65 win over East Tennessee State last night in the semifinals of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic. But a victory tonight would hold greater significance for Bennett than securing victory No. 111.
"I'd be a lot more pumped up with a Rainbow Classic championship," Bennett said.
A balanced performance powered Saint Mary's (9-1) into tonight's championship game against Ohio . Tip-off for the final of the 44th annual tournament is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Six Saint Mary's players scored in double figures and the Gaels went 11-for-24 from 3-point range to pull away from ETSU (5-6), which will play Louisiana-Lafayette in the third-place game at 5 p.m.
Forward Diamon Simpson and guard Carlin Hughes led the Gaels with 15 points each, with Simpson also grabbing 12 rebounds. Forward Lucas Walker made all four of his shots from the field and finished with 12 points. Center Omar Samhan had 10 points, and point guard Patrick Mills had 11 points and eight assists in orchestrating an offense that shot 55 percent from the field.
"We're not a selfish team at all. We make the extra pass for wide-open shots," said Hughes, who made five 3-pointers, including a momentum-turning halfcourt shot at the end of the first half.
"Tonight we made good decisions. When the big guys start rolling inside, it makes the guards wide open for the 3s, and if we're knocking it down we're hard to stop."
ETSU forward Kevin Tiggs and guard Courtney Pigram led the Buccaneers with 16 points each in a game defined by lengthy runs by both teams.
Saint Mary's took control in the first half with a 19-3 run and led 37-17 when Hughes banked in a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. That would be Saint Mary's last field goal for the next 5:51 as ETSU outscored the Gaels 20-4 to close to within four.
But Saint Mary's reclaimed the momentum when Hughes put up a shot from halfcourt that banged off the backboard and through the net as the buzzer sounded to give the Gaels a 44-37 advantage at the break.
With ETSU still within seven at 59-52 with 10:22 left, the Gaels went on a 14-0 spurt and weren't challenged again.
"We were always behind fighting an uphill battle, and it seemed like every time we closed it they'd hit a key shot or two and we just weren't able to make plays," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said.
"I thought the end of the first half was pivotal. We could have cut it to two, and then it goes to seven. That's a big momentum swing right there at the end and we just never recovered."
Ohio 74, Louisiana-Lafayette 68
After the Bobcats saw a 15-point second-half lead disappear in a hail of Ragin' Cajun 3-pointers, center Leon Williams' putback with 1:02 left in the game gave Ohio the lead for good and a berth in the championship game.
Williams finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bobcats (8-3). Forward Justin Orr hit for 20 and Jerome Tillman had 16.
Louisiana-Lafayette (3-7) made 11 3-pointers, with Chris Gradnigo hitting five on his way to a team-high 22 points.