If you’re a college basketball fan, you probably love games that come down to the wire, which means that you probably loved the enthralling matchup between Portland and Loyola Marymount on Saturday night.
The Pilots were holding onto a comfortable 10-point lead with just under three minutes left in regulation. There was still time for a turnaround, but for the most part it seemed like Portland had this one locked up.
Feb 12, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Evan Payne (1) puts up a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Gary Bell, Jr. (5) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Enter Evan Payne.
The preeminent sophomore guard wasn’t so convinced that this was a done deal. Payne truly exposed his dominant abilities and determination, leading a resilient comeback effort by scoring 11 of the game’s next 17 points, bringing LMU to a 61-58 deficit with 21 seconds left on the clock.
Portland guard Alec Wintering answered this run by knocking down two clutch free throws to take a five-point lead. It was after this that Payne drew a foul from Portland’s Bryce Pressley, but only connected on one of two shots from the charity stripe.
Two more free throws by the Pilots’ Volodymyr Gerun put Portland back up by six with 11 seconds left. The Lions tried to answer with a three pointer but were unable to connect. Seems over, right?
That’d be too easy. Evan Payne (who else?) answered that missed trey with an offensive rebound and putback to cut it to a four-point game with three seconds remaining. And wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Payne does what he does best and steals Portland’s inbound pass – we’re going back to the free throw line. After making his first two, Payne intentionally missed the third shot in the hopes of a quick putback to tie things up.
It was anyone’s game. Anything could’ve happened. But Portland was determined to put an end to LMU’s comeback dreams. Freshman forward Jason Todd secured the rebound off of Payne’s missed free throw, and just like that, the game was over. The Pilots pulled away by the skin of their teeth, defeating the Loyola Marymount Lions by a final score of 66-63.
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My plea to LMU fans after all of this is a cry of optimism. The Lions came storming back from a tough deficit to turn this matchup into a nail-biter, once again led by the heroics of Evan Payne, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the final 6:27. Even more, they did all of this on the road in a hostile environment.
It’s tough to lose after witnessing such an outstanding effort and display of maturity, but this game is proof that this team has a brighter future ahead. Mike Dunlap is leading this team down the right path.
Lastly, got to give some recognition to Portland for holding off a vicious comeback attempt. Kevin Bailey led the Pilots in scoring with 14 points, while Pressley and Gerun each added 13.
The Pilots will travel to Moraga next to take on the Saint Mary’s Gaels, while Loyola Marymount will go back to Los Angeles as they host the San Francisco Dons on Thursday, February 19.