As shot after shot banged off the iron, Pacific head coach Bob Thomason watched as his illustrious 15-year career came to and end.
The 15th-seeded Tigers absent offense in the first half built too deep of a hole for them to climb out of against No. 2 seed Miami in a second round NCAA tournament matchup. Despite a second-half surge led by Travis Fulton went for naught as Pacific fell 78-49, Friday afternoon in Austin’s Frank Erwin Special Events Center.
It was Thomason’s final game of his career, as the former Pacific player is set to retire. The game was also Pacific’s last as a member of the Big West Conference. The Tigers will move to the West Coast Conference next season.
“Sometimes you meet those moments where you just don’t perform very well, and that was us tonight,” Thomason said. “So if I had to take a bad game in the last four, I would take tonight over the last three, because we got here and I’m really proud of that for the kids.”
Travis Fulton led the Tigers with 18 points and Khalil Kelley had 11 points with nine rebounds.
Kelley got the Tigers (22-13) going early on but Pacific’s offense was unable to do much from half court. They shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from the perimeter. It was a stark contrast to their performance in last week’s Big West tournament, in which the Tigers rarely missed from beyond the arc.
“I actually think we got some pretty good looks, we just weren’t knocking down the shots like we know we can,” Fulton said. “And yeah, they pressured us, but not to where we weren’t getting good shots. But I think it was maybe the jitters getting out of us early on and we weren’t hitting those open shots like we normally do.”
While Pacific is a veteran team loaded with upperclassmen, the nerves were still somewhat of a factor as all of them were NCAA tournament rookies. Combined with the size of the Hurricanes that was much bigger than any team in the Big West, the Tigers were clearly bothered.
“Obviously there’s going to be nerves in a big game like this,” Kelley said. “We had to really get used to trying to go in there and try and maybe kick it out or pull it up or try and just to shot fake and do different things. They made it tough.”
“Khalil said it’s the biggest team we played, but he forgot we played Gonzaga and they’re really big,” Thomason said. “So it’s not easy because they’re so big and strong, but the problem is their smart, they play well together, they play smart defense, they don’t gamble a lot. They just don’t give you a lot of mistakes, don’t make silly passes.”
Miami (28-6) guard Durand Scott led the game with 21 points while Shane Larkin scored 10 with nine assists and three steals. The Hurricanes did what Pacific couldn’t and were deadly with the three, knocking down 12-of-22.
Miami wasted no time going on a 13-0 run in the first half while the Tigers kept trying to spark the outside game. Kelley was able to penetrate a few times early on but Pacific missed its first seven three pointers, allowing Miami to built a 21-7 lead midway through the first half.
Foul trouble also limited the minutes of Kelley and Colin Beatty. The Hurricanes were in the bonus with around 9:30 in the first half and with 5:34 left, a Lorenzo McCloud foul put the Hurricanes in the double bonus. They took advantage, converting 11 of 13 free throws in the first frame.
Down 40-19 at the half, the Tigers came out reenergized. After a Durand Scott triple, Kelley battled for a rebound on the other end and connected on a fallaway jumper. Fulton then knocked down back-to-back threes but the deficit still remained at 20 and the Hurricanes continued to pull away.
“I feel like the entire team played hard. We just weren’t making shots like we usually do,” Kelley said. “Things like that happen. I still feel like we had a great season and I’m still so proud of our team.”
For Thomason, his second life begins when the team exits its charter plane in Stockton late tonight.
“My wife’s a little nervous, she’s only known me as a head coach, so she will either like me better or we’re going to have problems, but we have been married 40 years, so I think we’re okay,” Thomason said. “People asked me all the time, like how are you going to feel? I go, ‘I’ve coached for 42 years, how do I know how I’m going to feel not coaching?’ I don’t know those answers. I’m looking forward to it.”