NORFOLK, Va. — Senior Michael Hale III scored a career-high 29 points and UTSA won the Liberty Tax Classic title on Sunday with a 79-70 victory at Old Dominion.
The Roadrunners and Holy Cross each finished the season-opening tournament with a 2-1 record, but UTSA won the tiebreaker by virtue of its 60-56 triumph over the Crusaders on Saturday.
Hale III, who was tabbed the event's Most Valuable Player, was 10-of-14 from the field, including 4-of-7 from the 3-point line, and his point total was the most since Melvin Johnson III tallied 29 against Alabama State in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
“I felt like our guys really played tough and hard,” head coach Brooks Thompson said. “I think the point guard play out of Michael Hale III today was the difference in the game.”
Senior Kannon Burrage added a season-high 20 points, 15 of which came in the first half, while junior Jeromie Hill, who joined Hale III on the all-tournament team, contributed 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Aaron Bacote came off the bench to pace the Monarchs (1-2) with 15 points.
UTSA opened the contest by hitting five of its first six shots during a 12-2 run.
Burrage found senior Larry Wilkins on a pick-and-roll for an easy layup that was followed by a 3-pointer by junior Jordan Sims. Hill collected an offensive rebound and scored inside for a 7-0 lead before DeShawn Painter got the home team on the board with a jumper. Hale III then added a fast break layup and capped the run with his first trey of the afternoon.
Minutes later, Hale III and Hill hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 10-point lead and a Burrage free throw extended the advantage to 28-14 with 10 minutes to go in the half.
However, Old Dominion began to chip away at the lead and a 10-1 run helped pull the Monarchs to within five (29-24).
However, Burrage put and end to the spurt with a four-point play. He buried a 3-pointer on the left wing as he was being pushed to the ground and then hit the ensuing free throw for an eight-point cushion.
ODU continued to cut into the lead and a dunk by Richard Ross gave the Monarchs their only advantage of the game, 36-35, with 2:07 before halftime.
Burrage answered again with a trey and a jumper, as the Roadrunners scored five of the last six points of the half to take a 40-37 lead into the locker room.
Hale III came out of intermission on fire, as he scored 21 points while playing all 20 minutes of the second half.
Old Dominion threatened several times, but UTSA found the bottom of the net when it needed to to maintain the advantage.
Deion Clark’s layup with 11:30 to play cut the lead to one, 54-53, but Hale III quieted the crowd of 6,233 with a 3-pointer and layup and the Monarchs got no closer than three the rest of the way.
Hale III answered a layup by Nick Wright with a pair of baskets to give UTSA its largest advantage of the stanza, 73-62, with 2:40 to play.
The Roadrunners then salted the game away at the free throw line.
UTSA shot 50 percent (27-of-54) while limiting Old Dominion to just 35.4 percent. The Birds drained a dozen 3-pointers, which was their most since knocking down 16 in last year’s home finale against UT Arlington (March 3, 2012).
UTSA will open its home slate on Saturday, Nov. 17, when it hosts USC Upstate (0-1) at 2 p.m.