HONOLULU — An early morning Christmas wake-up call snapped Loyola Marymount out of its recent funk.
Evan Payne’s five quick points stopped a 9-2 DePaul run and catapulted the Lions to a 72-69 win over the Blue Demons on Thursday in the seventh-place game of the Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Payne finished with a game-high 24 points and guard Ayodeji Egbeyemi added 20 points, including two free throws with 14.6 seconds remaining for the Lions (4-8), who snapped a six-game losing streak.
“Hallelujah,” Loyola Marymount coach Mike Dunlap said. “It’s been like (we’re) in a desert.”
Guard Billy Garrett’s 16 points led five DePaul starters in double figures. The Blue Demons (6-7) had only four points from the bench in their sixth straight loss.
“We played better here and we’re better than we’ve played in the first couple of games,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “We still have that rebounding issue and that really cost us.”
Loyola Marymount shot 63.2 percent from the field (12 of 19) and outrebounded DePaul 18-6 in the second half.
The Lions led by as many as nine with 6:23 remaining before DePaul scored nine of the next 11 points.
Guard Durrell McDonald drilled one of the Blue Demons’ 11 3-pointers to make it 61-59 when Payne came up clutch.
Payne, Loyola Marymount’s leading scorer who went 2 of 13 from the field in an overtime loss on Tuesday to Nebraska, slithered through the DePaul defense for a wide-open layup to push the lead to four.
On the next possession, Payne stepped back behind a screen and fired in a 3-pointer to push the lead to seven.
“Everybody came out hungry and we weren’t worried about the whole Christmas thing,” said Payne, who was up by 5:45 a.m. for the 8:30 tip. “We wanted this game bad and we came out and got it.”
Forward Godwin Okonji chipped in 13 points for Loyola Marymount, which is searching for offensive contributors outside of Payne and Egbeyemi.
“We opened the floor up and I thought the 13 points (Godwin) got really loosened things up because we haven’t been getting that from our post guys,” Dunlap said. “The 3 that (Payne) stuck at the end was ginormous.”
Center Tommy Hamilton chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds and scored in double figured in all three tournament games for DePaul.
The Blue Demons were 39.3 percent from 3-point range (11 of 28) but shot only 14 free throws.
The Lions got to the line 39 times but shot only 59 percent (23 of 39).
Two 8-0 runs helped DePaul take a 31-29 lead into halftime.
Garrett sank a 3-pointer to give DePaul a 16-12 lead, matching its largest of the first half.
Egbeyemi ended a scoring drought of more than four minutes by the Lions with a tough turnaround jumper as Loyola Marymount eventually climbed back in front.
Another four-minute scoreless drought plagued the Lions as DePaul used an 8-0 run to go up four before guard David Humphries’ putback with nine seconds left made it a two-point game at the break.
The Blue Demons led by as many as eight points in the second half, but the Lions battled back to tie it at 44 on forward Marin Mornar’s dunk with 12:08 remaining.
Garrett momentarily stemmed the tide with another 3-pointer, but the Lions answered with a 15-3 run to go up 59-50.
“They made some shots and we didn’t make shots,” Purnell said. “We missed some opportunities at the rim and has some costly turnovers.”
NOTES: DePaul G Billy Garrett was 4 of 4 from the line against Loyola Marymount to finish 23 of 24 (95.8 percent) in the tournament. … Loyola Marymount won its first game in 11 tries against Division I teams in preseason tournaments in Hawaii. The Lions lost all three games in the 1980 and 2005 Rainbow Classic events. Their only win was in the 1990 Maui Invitational against Division-II Chaminade. … This was the final tuneup for both teams before conference play starts next week.
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