ANAHEIM No. 2 seed Pacific advanced to the finals of the Big West tournament in fashion that was quintessentially March.
With the game tied at 53-53 and time expiring, Lorenzo McCloud missed a baseline jumper. The rebound went right into the hands of Travis Fulton who immediately lofted a jumper in the lane. With just one second left, Fulton's jumper made net and the Tigers came away with a 55-53 win over No. 3 seed Cal Poly, Friday night at the Honda Center.
"I saw that it was coming down to the last second and what you want to do is crash the boards for that last-second tip in," Fulton said. "It came right to me and I was there to put it back in."
"Travis will have a shot that he will remember for the rest of his life," said Pacific head coach Bob Thomason.
Pacific (21-12) advances to its 11th and final Big West tournament championship game, as the Tigers will exit the conference next season and for the West Coast Conference. For Thomason, it will be the ninth time he has coached in a championship and also his final time, as the 25-year head coach will retire at the conclusion of the season.
"Sometimes the basketball gods look at a guy and says he's got 25 years and it's his swan song," said Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero. "The last bounce, the last tip in goes to them."
In their final games, seniors Chris Eversley and Dylan Royer led the Mustangs (18-13) with 12 and 10 points each. The duo left everything they had out on the court, with Eversley playing 33 minutes despite suffering from the flu.
Royer, a local Morro Bay product who walked on and finally earned a scholarship and an All-Big West selection in his final season, saw his career and his dream come to an end.
"We were a minute away from achieving my goal which was to play in the Big West championship game and win that," Royer said. "It's a little bittersweet."
Pacific's Tony Gill led the game with 20 points of the bench going 7-for-8 from the field and was a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc.
"Tony made some sensational threes tonight that just kept us there," Thomason said.
Gill made all four in the second half, with two coming in the final eight minutes of the game with the Tigers down both times.
"Two of the shots he made were with a hand in his face falling back from 25 feet," Callero said. "Both of those shots were rainmakers at the buzzer of sort. The he got a flat-footed one and that's when we finally did change and go to a smaller lineup so we could switch everything off of that."
The game played at a frustratingly slow pace, which is exactly what Pacific had in the scouting report.
"They love it like that, it's not like we love it like that but we play it that way," Thomason said.
It was just the fifth time this season the Tigers failed to score at least 60 points.
"You've just got to grind and even though we don't like it that slow and that grind-y, if we didn't except it and feel good about it we weren't going to win the game," Thomason said. "You can't be irritated about it because that's what they want you to do."
The two teams played close from start to finish. Neither team had a lead larger than four points, swapping leads five times and tying the game up six times.
The second half played exceptionally close, coming down to the final minutes.
Eversley tied the game up at 51-all with a baseline jumper at 1:28. Chris O'Brien then hit two free throws to give the Mustangs a lead but McCloud drove for a layup that rattled in on the next possession to tie the game up again, this time at 53.
After a timeout, Royer missed a three giving the Tigers a final possession.
Thomason knows that Saturday night's game against No. 4 UC Irvine, which will be broadcast on ESPN2, may be his last but he isn't thinking about his emotions just yet.
"I'm going to enjoy the game, whatever happens tomorrow," Thomason said. "I'm just going to coach. There will be a moment when it will be over and we'll worry about that then."