After posting a 0-9 record last season in games decided by nine points or less, Seattle men’s basketball coach Cameron Dollar knew his team needed to learn how to finish games.
In their 75-71 victory over Cal State Fullerton, the Redhawks took a first step toward showing how much they’ve changed.
They fell behind early in Wednesday’s home opener in front of 2,064 at KeyArena before erasing an 18-point, second-half deficit thanks to red-shot shooting at the end and a full-court press that forced four turnovers during a critical two-minute stretch late in the game.
Down 51-33 with 12:47 remaining in the Elgin Baylor Classic, this game felt like so many others from last season when SU trailed early before mounting a comeback that fell short.
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However, this time was different.
“We’ve been talking to our guys about being resilient, and tonight I think that message finally got through,” Dollar said. “They fought and fought and fought all the way until the end.”
Jarell Flora, who scored a career-high 25 points, got his team all the way back when he drained a three-pointer that tied the score at 65 with 2:39 left.
The teams traded free throws and the score was knotted again at 69-when SU point guard Isiah Umipig got the ball at the top of the key.
The scenario seemed perfect for the former Federal Way High star, who was playing his first home game for SU, to get to the rim or draw a foul.
However, Umipig, who finished with 24 points, eight assists and just one turnover in 36 minutes, had other plans.
He drove into the lane before passing to sophomore guard Luiz Bidart in the corner for an open three-pointer that put Seattle University ahead 72-69 with 1:01 left.
“Coach drew up a play for me to come off a ball screen and to be aggressive,” Umipig said. “I came off the ball screen and I realized I had a lane at first, but Luiz’s man came in. I trust my teammate.”
Said Bidart: “I knew there was a good chance I would get the ball and I knew if I got the ball, I was going to make it. ”
Michael Williams scored 17 points for Fullerton, which had four players in double-figures. The Titans (1-1) led for nearly 37 minutes before falling apart at the end.
“It’s unbelievable,” Bidart said. “It’s so special because coach has been emphasizing for us to be resilient.”
Umipig had another word to describe the win: “Madness.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org