Kerry Keating's young Broncos looked nothing like themselves tonight. They scored more points than they had since the season opener and played disciplined, veteran basketball for most of the second half to put the game away.
An air ball, a three and two dunks in just the first two minutes. After a defensive struggle tipped-off the first night of the West Coast Conference tournament the closing act was a high octane affair.
Santa Clara had pulled out to a ten point lead, 14-4, by the first TV timeout. By the second TV timeout the Broncos were on pace for triple digits, holding a 20-8 lead.
Evan Payne (17.6 ppg, 29 tonight) scored at the 14:53 mark. He does a lot of scoring, but that bucket was notable because it was his first since Valentine's Day. The knee injury that sidelined him for the past three games seemed to
Santa Clara made eight of its first nine shots. The Broncos' only miss during that span came off a Jared Brownridge (19 points) three pointer but Nate Kratch was there to tip it in. Had an errant shot clock buzzer not sounded who knows how long that streak would have gone on for — Santa Clara knocked down a shot after that buzzer went off but the refs waved it off.
Then the Broncos went ice cold. Blame the buzzer if you want, it's an easy out, but uptempo and offensive efficiency are concepts foreign to this year's Broncos — the slowest team in the WCC and scoring just under a one point per possession in conference play.
A bit of rest in the locker rooms must've done good because both teams came out of the half on a tear. At the first TV timeout of the second half the teams had put up a combined 27 points on 11-13 shooting, with both misses coming from the Broncos.
The misses would return, just as they did in the first half, but the wall the teams it in the first did not. Actually, if you weren't looking at a play-by-play you might not have noticed because the intensity never waned.
LMU's shots weren't falling at the same rate as before, but that had more to do with Brandon Clark not allowing them to get shots off. The senior guard, playing for his career at this point, stopped the Lions from picking up any momentum with three steals over four defensive possessions. Nine of his 19 points came in the second half.
Since the Broncos favor a slow tempo they had no problem working the clock down the stretch. Tonight's hot shooting allowed them to extend the lead while burning the clock.
Even after Kerry Keating emptied his bench the Broncos lead continued to grow. Andrew Papenfus, just months removed from brain surgery, knocked down a three and two free throws. He entered tonight with five career points and leaves with twice that.
Santa Clara advances to play BYU in Saturday's quarterfinal.