The three-point shot wasn’t splashing for the Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball team in the first half of its game against the visiting Jackson State Tigers on Dec. 8 at Firestone Fieldhouse—but a trio of three-point makes in three consecutive possessions in the second half gave the Waves the lead. After being down eight points, Pepperdine never trailed again in the contest they won, 69-66.
Pepperdine Waves head coach Lorenzo Romar said the Waves are still progressing as they head on a three-game road trip before ending the year with a home contest.
“When you come away with a victory, you move on,” he said.
The win gave Pepperdine a record of 6-4 heading into a game at Southern Utah on Saturday. The Waves only won six of their 32 matchups last season.
The dismal record led to the dismissal of Pepperdine’s previous coach Marty Wilson and the hiring of Romar, who in his first head coaching job coached the Waves to two winning seasons in the late 1990s. The coach went on to have successful coaching stints at Saint Louis and Washington before returning to Malibu.
Pepperdine was the leading three-point shooting team in the West Coast Conference at 40 percent heading into the game, but the squad went one of seven from three in the first half. That changed for a few moments after halftime.
The Waves trailed, 31-39, before senior forward Darnell Dunn knocked down a triple to pull Pepperdine within five points of the Tigers. Sophomore guard Colbey Ross’ hit from behind the arc on the Waves’ next possession trimmed the visiting team’s lead to two points. Freshman guard Derek Polk Jr. later gave Pepperdine a 40-39 lead.
Pepperdine missed three three-pointers on its next five possessions, but Ross’ fast-break layup after a steal and a transition three-point made by Dunn increased their lead. A high-flying dunk by freshman Andre Ball with just over 11 minutes left in the game put Pepperdine ahead, 47-43.
Romar said making shots is key.
“In the first half, the ball wasn’t going in the basket, and sometimes with young players, when they don’t see that ball go in the basket, they don’t have as much energy on the defensive end,” he said. “But the three-ball started going in and that always helps.”
Jackson State tied the game momentarily at 55 before Ross, the game’s leading scorer, drove into the midst of the Tigers’ defense to hit a twisting, turning scoop shot. Dunn was fouled on a made-layup on the Waves’ next play. The 6-foot-6 forward hit the accompanying foul shot, which gave Pepperdine a 60-55 lead.
Pepperdine led the Tigers, the owners of one victory this season, 63-61, with 1:05 left in the game when Ross drove to the basket and was fouled. The second-year guard hit both free throws to increase his team’s lead to four points with 43 seconds left on the clock
Ross, who scored 21 points in the contest, would hit four more foul shots in the game’s final seconds to secure Pepperdine’s three-point win. Ross scored 14 of his points after halftime. The contest was the fifth time he had scored 20 or more points this season. The guard also had five rebounds and six assists.
Dunn scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Sophomore guard Jade Smith had 12 points. Freshman forward Kessler Edwards scored seven points for the Waves. He also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Romar said the Waves played with more energy in the second half.
“When we played with more energy, we started to hit shots,” he said. “We shared the ball better. In the first half we were stagnant, we weren’t moving.”
The Waves play at Oregon State and Long Beach State after the game in Utah. The squad hosts Alabama A&M on New Year’s Eve. Pepperdine’s first WCC game is against LMU on Jan. 3.
Romar wants his team to improve defensively and at sharing the ball on offense in order to be successful the rest of the season.
“We have to get better at both,” he said. “That’s what we will spend a lot of time on in practice.”