LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Loyola Marymount showed their fight in the West Coast Conference quarterfinals, battling with top-seeded and seventh-ranked Gonzaga late into the second half. The Lions fought back to reclaim the lead in the second-half, before the Zags pulled away for the 83-69 win.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” said Head Coach Mike Dunlap. “Rebounding became the difference in the game, it’s that simple. They got a lot of easy baskets and second shots. It was certainly a well-played game by both teams.”
Although the Zags scored first, Erik Johansson gave LMU their response and lead, 3-2, after knocking down an early triple. Johansson tied his season-high with nine points.
The Lions retook the lead when James Batemon swished in a three and drew the contact. He pushed LMU ahead 13-11 on the field goal, but was unable to knock down the free throw.
“I was able to get inside the lane, to get teammates open,” said James Batemon. “My teammates set great screens to get me open. I just tried to stay aggressive and in attack mode to keep them on their heels. We also were in the bonus so we had a chance to get to the free-throw line which was a positive for us.”
McClendon added to his conference steals lead with a one-way trip to the basket, making it a 17-13 game with 6:12 remaining.
Mattias Markusson ended a 6-0 Gonzaga run with four straight points of his own, giving the lead back to the Lions, 25-24, with less than a minute and a half before intermission.
Down 29-28 at the half, the Lions again responded quickly. After Erik Johansson tied the score at 31-31 on his early possession three, Batemon scored LMU’s next nine points, including the contested layup that pushed the Lions ahead 40-39 with 16:36 left on the clock. Batemon topped his 29-point opening night performance with 27 more on Saturday.
A late second-half 10-0 GU run pushed the game to 15, with Cameron Allen scooping to the basket for the layup to stop the streak. Allen had his second-straight double digit scoring night, finishing with a dozen.
After LMU’s defense held Gonzaga to 29 in the first 20, the Bulldogs added 54 in the second half to win 83-69. The Lions had half as many turnovers as the Zags in the game, seven compared to 14, with Gonzaga’s three points off turnovers a season low for any Lion opponent.
“It was a great season for us with lessons learn,” said Batemon. “We’ve seen a lot of grown from the beginning of the season toward the end. We have a lot of young players who got great experience for next year. It’s a pretty positive future looking at next year. I feel like we’ve given it our all, all year. That’s the best thing about the team.”
Eli Scott broke the program record for rebounds in a player’s freshman season. He corralled 225 this season to move to first on the all-time list. He also finished third on the freshman scoring all-time chart with 392 points scored.
“There was an upward trend that people could see,” said Dunlap. “Not only in terms of the one-possession games but with some momentum going into this. It was measurable just with the naked eye of tonight’s performance. I think those seeds are there. We made the choice to go young, and we knew that we would have to wear that. I think we wore it in a way that those lessons learned each time out we looked at it that way. The story within the story is this great core, with us losing the close games, there was no drama within our team. To be able to carry on throughout the season and not have that is exceptional in this day in age of social media. I think our guys did a good job of pushing all the negativity away that comes with any team that doesn’t have a winning record.”
The Lions won their final two games of the regular season and third on the opening night of the tournament to bring optimism into the offseason and upcoming year.
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