Overcoming a nervous first half, the Pirates' men's basketball team shot an incredible 67 percent from the floor in the second half in their 86-76 come-from-behind victory over Los Angels Valley to open the 2014-15 season Thursday night in the first round of the We Play Hard Tip-Off Tournament at the VC Athletic Event Center. Sophomore Vondel Faniel led the way with a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds in the contest for VC (1-0).
The young Pirate team struggled in the early going, misfiring on their first five field goal attempts. LA Valley took advantage and built a 17-4 lead in the first six-plus minutes of the contest. VC, which features just two returning sophomores, was able to stop the bleeding, and held fast at a 13-poiunt deficit for the next five minutes of play before beginning to battle back.
A basket by Jalon Wilson and a 3-pointer from Robert Hunt brought VC back to within six points, 32-26, at the 3:58 mark, and a shot by Toure Atwater before the half made it an eight-point game, 38-30, at intermission.
Ventura dominated play in the second half, hitting two-thirds of their shot attempts in the period. Another Hunt triple tied the score at 44-44 with 14:52 remaining. Nathaniel Claxton scored the next five points fo the Pirates as they began to take the game away from the Monarchs. A trey from Hunt built the Ventura lead to nine points, 54-45 at the 12:46 mark.
LA Valley kept up the fight, however, forcing Faniel to take the game over late. With the Pirate lead down to four points, 62-58, he scored 10 consecutive points to maintain the advantage.
Then Hunt took over from long range, hitting two big triples to give Ventura a 79-71 cushion in the final minute.
Hunt connected on five of nine 3-point shots en route to 19 points and he dished out six assists while pulling in five boards. Atwater totaled 12 points, including a thundering slam dunk late in the first half to energize the vocal crowd that included a large student section. Claxton netted nine points.
The Pirates will face Palomar College in the tournament semifinals Friday Nov. 7 at 7:00 pm at the AEC.