RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rainbow Classic Most Valuable Player Patrick Mills of Saint Mary's drove past Ohio's Justin Orr last night during the championship game. Mills scored a game-high 23 points in the final.
Gaels storm to title
After 20 minutes, it looked like the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic final would come down to a tight race to the finish.
MVP: Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's
» Leon Williams, Ohio
» Diamon Simpson, Saint Mary's
» Chris Gradnigo, Louisiana-Lafayette
» Jerome Tillman, Ohio
» Kevin Sims, Tulane
That's when Saint Mary's hit another gear.
Trailing by three at halftime, Saint Mary's opened the second half with a 24-5 run and went on to claim its first Rainbow Classic championship with a 70-63 win over Ohio before a crowd of 980 at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I was real impressed with our starting group to start the second half," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "They came out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and blew right past them. I'm usually pretty low-key on that, but that burst was impressive.
"(The Classic) is hard to win. There were eight good teams I thought were all pretty even and we came out of it and I thought we controlled every game we were in. Tonight, we controlled the second half."
The Gaels' outside shooting countered Ohio's post production to cap their first appearance in the 44th annual holiday tournament with a title. Saint Mary's hit eight 3-pointers, four coming in the pivotal second-half spurt, and the Gaels held off an Ohio comeback in the closing minutes to secure the title.
Freshman guard Patrick Mills led the way for Saint Mary's with a game-high 23 points, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Mills, who chose Saint Mary's over Utah and Wake Forest, hit seven of 18 shots from the field, going 3-for-7 from 3-point range, in playing all 40 minutes.
Todd Golden hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points and forward Diamon Simpson had nine points and 10 rebounds to join Mills on the All-Tournament team.
After being held to 37 percent shooting in the first half, Saint Mary's hit 10 of its first 14 shots after the break to take control of the game.
Ohio was paced by the inside combo of Leon Williams (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Jerome Tillman (23 and 10).
But none of the other Bobcats scored more than six points and Ohio went 1-for-14 from 3-point range.
"I knew it was going to be an inside game. We took away their shooters," Bennett said. "We said they were going to have to beat us with their inside guys. ... Nobody else hurt us. That was kind of our game plan."
The inside-outside duel developed in a first half as Ohio took a 28-25 lead into halftime.
Following a fiery speech from Bennett, Saint Mary's wasted little time in reclaiming the lead in the second half.
"He had a few words to say to us that weren't very good, but they were words for us to wake up to," Mills said. "We weren't being ourselves in the first half."
Golden, Ian O'Leary and Mills hit 3-pointers in the first 1:44 of the half and the Gaels led 36-28 when Mills slipped a nifty behind-the-back pass to Golden for a fast-break layup.
When Gaels center Omar Samhan scored on a putback at the 13:30 mark, Saint Mary's had charged to a 49-33 lead.
Louisiana-Lafayette 82, East Tennessee State 80, OT
Chris Gradnigo made six 3-pointers and led four Ragin' Cajuns with 21 points as Louisiana-Lafayette (3-7) captured third place in the tourney.
The Ragin' Cajuns went 14-for-27 from 3-point range with Randell Daigle and Travis Bureau hitting four each.
ETSU forward Kevin Tiggs made 11 of 15 shots from the field to finish with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds.