HONOLULU - Sam Gabbard led the way with 23 points and nine rebounds to win tournament MVP honors as UC Santa Cruz defeated Messiah College 81-71 to close the Hoops in Hawai'i Holiday Classic.
UCSC improves to 8-4 on the season while the Falcons fell to 7-4. The eight wins are the most UCSC has had against Division III opponents in school history and the most wins total before Christmas in school history.
UCSC trailed 13-9 after six minutes, but a Kyle Creighton three-pointer started an 18-7 run that gave the Banana Slugs a lead they would never relinquish. Gabbard scored the last four points of the half to give UCSC a 39-31 lead at the break.
The Slugs shot 48.4%(30-62) from the field in the game compared to Messiah's 45.3%. UCSC forced 15 Messiah turnovers, with nine in the second half to key the victory.
"We had great energy and execution tonight," said head coach Ron Dubois
The Banana Slugs return to California for a pair of games after Christmas at Occidental and Whittier.