This past week saw a return to action for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs. Although it may not have been the most ideal start, it was certainly an eventful week on the court for the Lions.
Wednesday saw the tipoff of both teams’ respective season. The women began facing off against USC at the Galen Center – a tough game on the road to begin their campaign. The Trojans emphatically proved themselves as the favorites they were, putting up a dominant performance against their cross-town rivals. The Lions ultimately fell short by 30 points with the final score of 85-55. The women will look to bounce back this Thursday, Dec. 3 with a game at home against UC Irvine.
The Stan Johnson era of men’s basketball began Wednesday night with a game at home against his former school, Southern Utah University. Southern Utah came out the gate with hot hands, shooting well and jumping out to an early double-digit lead. The Lions were able to regroup, however, entering the half trailing the Thunderbirds by a margin of one point.
The second half proved to be a dizzying display of back-and-forth action. Neither team could find breathing room from the other, evenly exchanging blows and failing to establish a secure lead. The game entered the final two minutes tied at 80. Senior Eli Scott put LMU in a winning position when his free throw with 25 seconds left put the Lions up by three.
However, on Southern Utah’s next possession, freshman Jalin Anderson committed a costly foul that gave the visitors an opportunity at a 3-point play. Scoring while being fouled in the process, Southern Utah’s John Knight III then sunk his free throw to tie the game at 83.
With 18 seconds left to respond, the Lions drove up the court in search of a winner. The ball eventually fell to Anderson, who sunk a baseline jumper as time expired. The Lions prevailed at the buzzer by a score a score of 85-83. Anderson impressed in his debut for the team, scoring 12 points and adding an additional three rebounds and three assists.
Riding high after this win, the Lions traveled to Minneapolis to take the court against the University of Minnesota. Facing Power Five competition on the road, this game would provide a solid test for Johnson’s men. The Lions picked up where they left off, roaring out the gate to an early nine-point lead. It appeared as though a road upset was in the cards until Minnesota eventually found their rhythm.
The Lion lead was relinquished by halftime as the Golden Gophers found themselves ahead by four points at the break. LMU struggled offensively in the second half, leaving Minnesota to establish a comfortable leading position. After being tested early, the home team would eventually cruise to an 88-73 victory.
Although the Lions dropped this contest, perhaps the biggest story of the weekend came when sophomore forward Keli Leaupepe garnered viral fame on social media. Impressing with his combination of signature looks and surprisingly silky movements on the court, clips of the forward began to spread on both Twitter and Instagram. The Australian native captivated the internet for a brief moment with his love of Charles Barkley and seemingly unlikely versatility as a player.
After suffering a loss on Saturday, the Lions remained in Minneapolis to face the Golden Gophers in a second game against the Big Ten school. This time around, a toughened Lion defense allowed LMU to hang with Minnesota for the entirety of the contest. The Lions tied the game late, with Leaupepe coming up with a huge offensive rebound and 3-point play to even the score at 64-64.
With Minnesota's final possession of the ball, junior guard Marcus Carr shook his man and drained an impressive 3-pointer with two seconds on the clock. Carr caused problems for the Lions in both games, scoring 26 points in the latter of the two matchups. LMU was handed another loss on the road, this time by a narrower margin of 67-64. The men will now head home to face Long Beach State in Gersten Pavilion Friday, Dec. 4.