KENNEWICK - It wasn't the 8 a.m. opening tip. And it wasn't tournament jitters, either.
Tacoma's fast getaway and subsequent 80-73 victory over Walla Walla here Saturday in the opening round of the men's NWAACC Championships basketball tournament at the Toyota Center was more evident than that as far as Jeff Reinland was concerned.
"They were just the better basketball team," the Warriors veteran head coach said of the victorious Titans. "They are more athletic than we are, they are very hard to guard and they came out ready to play."
The Western Region's No. 2 seed broke on top 8-2 in the game's first five minutes, extended the lead to 30-11 with 7:02 remaining before halftime and led by 36-16 with 3:43 remaining for what proved to be the Titans' biggest advantage of the game.
"I thought our energy was OK to start the game," Reinland said. "But I thought that Tacoma came out with better energy than we did."
Especially Mark McLaughlin, the NWAACC's leading scorer on the season with a 28-point average. The 6-foot-6 Titans sophomore hit his first basket on a baseline drive with 15:26 showing on the first-half clock and scored seven more baskets, one of them a 3-pointer, and sank his only free throw over the next 5 1/2 minutes.
McLaughlin's seventh field goal gave him 16 points and his team a 26-11 lead with nine minutes still to play in the first half. But shortly thereafter, he picked up his third foul and was a non-factor the rest of the way.
"We executed our game plan and got No. 32 (McLaughlin) in foul trouble," Reinland said. "The trouble is, he wasn't in foul trouble when the game started."
With McLaughlin on the bench, the Warriors scored the final 13 points of the half to close within 36-29 at halftime.
Reserve forward Hunter Hahn started the rally with a 17-footer and sophomore post Dallen Bills finished it with two free throws. In between, Caleb Bravard, another backup, drained a pair of 3-pointers and Jay Payne also found the range from downtown.
The Warriors continued their comeback after the intermission.
Michael Crane's three-point play made it a six-point game in the first minute of the second half. Freshman guard Dylan Radliff hit back-to-back treys to cut the lead to five points with 18:35 on the clock and then to four points at the 17:18 mark. Mac Stannard's 3-pointer made it a two-point game, 43-41, with 16:28 to go.
Three baskets and two free throws by Nate Walker kept the Titans on top, and back-to-back dunks by 6-8 freshman Damani Coley pushed the Titans' lead back to 59-52 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
"They were just too quick for us," said Reinland, who used a zone defense against Tacoma almost exclusively. "We started in the zone and that wasn't working very well. We tried man-to-man, which didn't work either, so we went back to zone and played it probably 80 percent of the game.
"We just didn't have the quickness to play them man. We had a lot of trouble with their spin dribbling, which we don't see a lot of."
Nevertheless, the Warriors didn't back down and they didn't fall apart.
Bills converted a rebound into two points, drew a foul and made the free throw to cut Tacoma's lead to 59-55. After two free throws by Demetrius Smith restored a seven-point Titans lead with 9:11 to play, Crane drilled a 3-pointer and Stannard scored on a hard left-hand drive, was fouled and completed a three-point play that tied the game at 61-61 with 8:07 remaining.
In the next 2 1/2 minutes, however, Smith and Dominique Williams stroked back-to-back 3-pointers, Williams connected on a short jumper and Coley worked the paint for a basket and suddenly the Warriors faced a 10-point deficit, 71-61, with 5:37 on the clock.
"We came all the way back, and then we had four defensive breakdowns in a row," Reinland said. "And I still thought we might pull it out."
And the Warriors almost did.
Two baskets by Bravard, a 3-pointer by Radliff, a field goal and a free throw by Bills and a baseline drive by Stannard drew WWCC within two points, 75-73, with 1:58 to play. But that was the end of Warriors' comeback as they missed two 3-point tries and committed two turnovers as the clock wound down.
"We had our chances," Reinland said. "We had some open looks. But I'm still very proud of how we got back into the game the way we did."
Bills finished the game with 21 points and nine rebounds. Radliff made 4-of-8 3-pointers and totaled 17 points and Bravard added 14 points off the bench. Stannard had a game-high six assists to go with eight points.
Walker led the Titans with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Tacoma advanced to today's quarterfinals at 2 p.m. against the winner of the Shoreline-Mount Hood game. Walla Walla meets the loser of that game here this morning at 8 in a loser-out game.
Tacoma 80, Walla Walla 73
WALLA WALLA (73) - Crane 2-3 1-1 5, Radliff 6-15 1-1 17, Payne 2-11 0-0 6, Stannard 3-4 1-1 8, Bravard 5-8 2-2 14, Bills 8-12 5-7 21, Hahn 1-5 0-2 2, Arias 0-0 0-0 0, Hight 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 10-14 73.
TACOMA (80) - Coley 4-5 0-2 8, Lord 0-2 3-4 3, Williams 4-15 1-4 10, Walker 10-15 3-5 23, Vaughn 3-4 0-0 6, Smith 5-9 3-6 14, McLaughlin 7-14 1-1 16, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 33-65 11-22 80.
Halftime - Tacoma 36, WWCC 29. 3-point goals - WWCC 9-27 (Radliff 4-8, Payne 2-9, Stannard 1-2, Bravard 2-5, Hahn 0-3), Tacoma 3-11 (Coley 0-1, Lord 0-1, Williams 1-5, Smith 1-2, McLaughlin 1-2). Total fouls - WWCC 16, Tacoma 13. Fouled out - Tacoma (Walker, McLaughlin). Technical fouls - WWCC (Bills). Rebounds - Tacoma 38 (Walker 11), WWCC 30 (Bills 9). Turnovers - WWCC 16, Tacoma 8. Assists - WWCC 20 (Stannard 6), Tacoma 15 (Lord 5).