Men’s Basketball Advances to Tournament Semis with Big Second Half Effort in 96-81 Win

Ryan Mosher/ERAU Athletics

The second-ranked Embry-Riddle Eagles might have had a sense of déjà vu in the first half on Thursday night, trailing by as may as 15 in the quarterfinals of The Sun Conference Tournament. The Eagles (30-1) lost their first-ever postseason game at the ICI Center a year ago in the same situation, falling 96-77 to Thomas. However, the Blue and Gold rallied…big time. The home team ended the first period on a 15-3 run to trim eight-seeded Webber International’s lead to 45-42 at the break before exploding for a 54-point second half effort to end the Warriors’ (13-19) season, 96-81.

Embry-Riddle was powered by senior Cesar Pastrana as the Cartagena, Colombia native matched a career-high with 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting
from the floor as the Blue and Gold advanced to the tournament semifinals which will be hosted at ERAU’s ICI Center. Embry-Riddle will take on fifth-seeded Warner after the Royals upset fourth-seeded Northwood, 62-60 in West Palm Beach.

In addition to Pastrana’s offensive effort, the Eagles got a lift from DeForest Carter’s 19 points, nine assists, eight steals (a career high), five rebounds and four blocks, while Dalton Barnes and Joseph Gonzalez each added 16 for the Eagles. Embry-Riddle’s 96 points were the fourth-most scored by the Eagles in 2014-15 and the most in a postseason contest since Feb. 22, 2011 when ERAU downed Ave Maria, 100-61 in The Sun Conference Tournament.

The opening minutes of the game were fast and furious in both directions as neither team could get a foothold defensively. A Raymond Durant three put the visitors up 6-4 with 18:10 on the clock before Pastrana scored four straight to give the hosts their last lead until the second half.

The Warriors pulled away from ERAU over the a span of 13 minutes, taking a three-point lead to a 13-point cushion when Brian Pace connected on a triple at the 8:53 mark. After the Eagles trimmed the deficit to eight on a Daniel Kiesling layup the Warriors quickly went up 15 thanks to a 7-0 run, capped by a Pace fasbtreak layup off an Eagle turnover at the 6:15 mark.

A timeout by Head Coach Steve Ridder worked for the Eagles as the defensive intensity sparked a 13-0 run by the Blue and Gold, paced by Pastrana and Carter who combined for 11 of those 13 points. A three from Durant stopped the run and put the visitors back up by five at 45-40, but Gonzalez recorded a jumper in the paint to send the game to half at 45-42.

Pastrana finished the first half with 21 points as both teams shot 50 percent from the field.

Coming out of the break, the Eagles went on a 5-2 run to knot the game at 47-47 when Pastrana made good on a wide-open three, but the Warriors hung tough, matching the Eagles basket-for-basket until Barnes hit a pair of free throws at the 16:50 mark to put the Eagles in front, 53-51.

Two quick layups from Carter pushed the lead to six and a three from Reed Ridder a few possessions later gave the Eagles a 60-53 advantage.

The lead grew to 12 on a Carter fastbreak layup after a full-court pass from Jason Powell with just over 12 minutes to go, and the Warriors had no answer for the Eagles’ offense the rest of the night.

A nice feed from Gonzalez to Powell resulted in an easy layup and a 79-66 lead with 7:45 to go and a few minutes later the lead ballooned to its biggest of the night at 16 when Barnes made a layup for an 89-73 cushion.

Webber never got closer than 12 over the final five minutes as the Eagles celebrated their 37th all-time win in The Sun Conference Tournament.

Pace finished with 26 points on 10-for-30 shooting while Durant added 16 points and Nate Morrell chipped in seven points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The Warriors shot 41 percent for the game and were outrebounded by the Eagles, 42-30.

Kiesling fell one point shy of a double-double at nine points and 10 rebounds while also collecting three assists and two steals. Pastrana grabbed eight rebounds and Barnes had five assists for ERAU.

The tournament will resume on Monday, March 2 with second-seeded St. Thomas taking on third-seeded Southeastern at 5 p.m. in the ICI Center, followed by Embry-
Riddle’s game against Warner at 7 p.m.