FAIRBANKS- A breakout second half led by Sergej Pucar and Ronnie Baker was key for the Alaska Nanooks 83-72 win over Fresno Pacific. Tonight's win gave the Nanooks consecutive GCI Alaska Invitational Tournament titles.
The first half had the makings of a game that could go down to the last possession. There was a slow ebb and flow with three lead changes and two ties. The Sunbirds led by as much as nine at one point but the Nanooks got to the free throw line. They were a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe and rallied back for 29-26 halftime lead. Senior forward led that free throw percentage going 4-4 from the line and leading Alaska with 8 points.
Fresno's Malcolm Griffin kept his team close with 13 points on 4-5 shooting. He wouldn't nearly be done. In the second half Griffin went off for 26 points. He finished with 39 points, shot 15-18 from the field, 6-8 from three point land and 3-3 from the line. His 39 points were a career high for him and new GCI tournament single game record. Kramer Soderberg of Lindenwood and Gage Daye of Bloomfield both had 35 point games.
Despite Griffin's stellar play it wasn't enought to keep his time close during a big stretch in the second half. Fresno Pacific' Josh Mason, who finished with 11 points, swished a mid-range jumper from the top of the key to bring the Sunbirds with one 45-44 with about nine minutes left. After an Alaska timeout two seniors, Pucar and Baker, took over.
Pucar got it started going on an 11-0 run by himself hitting two threes, a layup and converting an and one opportunity. Baker would join him on the run with a three, fast break layup and an and one conversion of his own. The dynamic duo scored 29 straight points for the Nanooks who went on 24-6 run over a seven minute span. Baker and Pucar combined for 54 points with Baker netting a team high 29.
The Sunbirds widdled down an 18 point Nanook lead to nine after Griffin hit some and ones and a three late in the game. But the Nanooks hit big free throws to hold off the late rally by Fresno. UAF finished 24-27 from the free throw line. The team shot 49% from the field and went 7-17 from three. The Nanooks took care of the ball committing seven turnovers while forcing 16. That led to 26 points for the men's team. Senior foward Andrew Kelly added 12 points going 4-6 from the floor.
Baker, Pucar and Kelly were all-GCI Alaska Tournament selections. They were joined by Emporia State's Kaleb Wright, University of Mary's Marc Musungayi and Fresno Pacific's Phil Jackson. Griffin was named GCI Alaska Tournament MVP.