LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 29: Ryan Nicholas #32 of the Portland Pilots shoots against Evan Roquemore #0 of the Santa Clara Broncos during the first round of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena February 29, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
How do you beat a team that commits just one turnover all game? One way is by shooting 57% from the field and 16-17 at the line. Portland did just that to beat hapless Santa Clara 74-70 on Wednesday night to advance to the second round of the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. The loss sends Santa Clara to the end of its season with 18-straight losses.
Not only did Santa Clara commit just one turnover all game, it came at the most crucial, inopportune time for the Broncos. Down 72-70, point guard Evan Roquemore drove the baseline and stepped out of bounds with 5.8 seconds left. Portland broke the SCU press and Tanner Riley threw down a dunk with one second left for the final 74-70 margin.
Portland's hot shooting was led by a transcendent performance from forward Ryan Nicholas. The sophomore posted a career high of 24 points on 10-11 shooting while also posting 11 rebounds and three assists.
The Pilots appeared to pull away several times in the contest, but the feisty Broncos would not go away. Portland built a 53-40 lead to open the second half, but Santa Clara fought back with an extended run. While the Broncos were taking care of the ball, Portland couldn't stop giving it away, and with 6:30 left in the game, an 18-5 SCU run tied the game at 58-58.
But Portland would knock down too many shots. David Carr hit a three to end the run, a three that factored into an 8-16 shooting night from behind the arc for the Pilots.
Roquemore -- a native of Henderson, Nevada and with family in attendance -- put in two free throws with 4:40 left to give the Broncos their first lead of the second half at 62-61, but that would be the final gasp. Portland took final control by threes: Nicholas would convert a three-point play, followed by a Tanner Riley three pointer, then a Thomas van der Mars three-point play put the Pilots up six with 1:30 left.
The grit of Roquemore kept Santa Clara in it. Although he shot just 4-18 from the field, near-flawless game management and living at the free throw line down the stretch -- 11-12 for the game -- was almost enough to give SCU its first conference win. Niyi Harrison added 15 points for the Broncos, while Raymond Cowels added 11 points. Santa Clara will have to wait until November to try and get its first win of the 2012 calendar year.
While David Carr's only points came on a couple three pointers, his six assists helped fuel the high field goal percentage, as the Pilots assisted on 17 of 25 field goals. Kevin Bailey and Riley added 13 and 12 points respectively for Portland, who meets 5-seed San Francisco in the second round tomorrow night. The Dons (18-12, 8-8) won both matchups of the regular season -- a one-point win in Portland, and a 34-point win in San Francisco. The game tips at 6:00 pm PT and will air on BYUtv.