It was a game of runs early, often and throughout.
LMU hit first but the Pilots struck back with a quick 9-0 run to take a seven point lead. Evan Payne brought it to an end with a pair of free throws, which in turn sparked a Lions' run to counter the Pilots'.
Portland was playing exceptional defense over the first ten or so minutes, forcing LMU to commit turnovers on nearly a quarter of their possessions. Whenever the Lions started putting together promising looking offensive sets, they would cough up the ball and their momentum would go with it.
Portland's second run was greater than the first, a 10-0 run over three minutes to give the Pilots a 19-7 lead.
The final two points of that run came on the first play after the under-twelve media timeout. Whatever Max Good said during the break was genius, because his Lions looked completely different once they came back onto the floor.
C.J. Blackwell hit a three and the Lions came to life. By the next TV timeout the Pilots' lead had slimmed to just six, thanks in large part to two turnovers. The ball handling woes just got worse for Portland from there.
Portland had eight turnovers in the first half, seven of which came in the final ten minutes.
Somebody hit rewind on the tape and replayed the first half at the start of the second half. Well, it seemed like that anyway.
The Pilots were completely dominant on both ends of the floor. Spanning the break, Portland went on a 20-4 run. Less than eight minutes into the half, the Pilots held the largest lead of the game, 13 points.
Anthony Ireland had been quiet all game but seemed to see the end of his career ticking ever closer, though he denied this in the post-game press conference. With his teammates struggling -a statement unfortunate but true about his entire career- he took over (that's also true of his entire career). Quietly, the Lions cut the Portland lead to two possessions.
That quiet comeback became a full blown roar, just like it had in the first half. A 12-1 run pulled LMU within two at the under-eight TV timeout. Evan Payne, who would finish with a game high 19 points, starred on defense down the stretch. He stole the ball from David Carr and slammed it home in transition. The Lions once again cut the Pilots lead to one possession.
A few minutes later, once the Lions had the lead, the Pilots mounted another comeback run. Down four with 5:03 remaining, Ryan Nicholas was fouled hard on a lay-up attempt. His shot went in and he connected on the free throw. Fellow big man Thomas van der Mars followed that play with a tough possession of his own. His free throws returned the lead to the Pilots.
The lead would switch back and forth until the final seconds. Down two, with 14.4 to play, Bobby Sharp passed the ball to a part of the floor with absolutely nobody on it. He had a team high 18 points (shared with van der Mars) and connected on six of his nine three point attempts. He's not really a passer and it showed.
After his pass bounced out of bounds the Pilots were forced to call a timeout. In the ensuing foul fest Nick Stover (73.0%) connected on both his free throws and it was a two possession lead for the Lions. Anthony Ireland was next to the line. The senior is shooting 82% from the line on the season, but he missed the second shot. The Pilots had the ball and 4.4 seconds to tie the game.
A disjointed fast break saw the ball get close to the three point line before being passed back out to Ryan Nicholas. He heaved a deep three but didn't get it off in time. Not that it mattered, as it failed to go in the bucket.
The Lions are now set to meet BYU, a team they defeated in their conference opener, on Saturday afternoon. In case you forgot, the last place Lions kicked off last year's WCC Tournament with a victory over Portland. They went on to win two more games before falling to #1 Gonzaga in the semis.