The LMU men’s basketball team (13-9 overall, 7-5 WCC) traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, over the weekend to face off with the rest of the West Coast Conference (WCC) in the WCC Tournament. The Lions entered the tournament with the third best record in conference play. Despite an exit in the tournament in the quarterfinals, the Lions finished the season with their best regular season finish in conference play since the 2011-2012 season and achieved this in head coach Stan Johnson's first season at the helm.
The Lions outperformed expectations in the 2020-2021 season, as they were voted in the preseason as the seventh ranked team in the WCC for the men’s basketball season. Finishing third in the conference, the team saw much of their success this season come from rebounding, ranking first in the conference in rebounding defense (27.3 per game), rebounding margin (7.82), offensive rebounding percentage (.33) and defensive rebounding percentage (.79) defense. The team also ranked second in the conference in average offensive rebounds per game (10). The team’s defense was also a strength, owning the third best scoring defense in the conference, only allowing 68 points per game.
The team was led this season by first-year head coach Johnson, who coached LMU to a better conference record than any previous team in nine seasons. Despite entering his first season filled with the difficulties surrounding COVID-19, Johnson saw what the team could become and where he could help take them.
“When I got the job there was greatness in the room and I meant that and I believe that, and I did not put any limitations on this team and who we could be,” said Johnson. “Our players have done a great job buying in and believing that anything is possible and that we are good enough to win not in my year two or year three but now.”
COVID-19 also saw the Lions have their season postponed twice. With multiple stoppages in their schedule and uncertainty surrounding the resume of play, the team was able to remain connected, part of the pillars that Johnson has established in the culture he has brought to the team.
“We’re selfless, we’re connected and we’re relentless,” said Johnson. “Selfless means that LM over 'you,' Loyola Marymount over you, which means we put the team goals first,” said Johnson. “Connected means before we can win championships, we have to have relationships with each other...Relentless means we attack everything, we attack every opportunity, we attack every challenge.”
Johnson and the Lions had four players on the roster who received WCC honors following the regular season. Senior guard/forward Eli Scott was named to the All-WCC First Team and also led the team in scoring with 18 points per game, rebounding with 8.2 per game and assists at 3.6 per game. Freshman guard Jalin Anderson was named to the All-WCC Freshman Team, while also playing the most freshman minutes in the conference. Redshirt sophomore guard/forward Dameane Douglas and sophomore forward Keli Leaupepe were also named to the All-WCC honorable mention team. This is the first time since the 1989-1990 season that four Lions have been named in All-WCC honors.
Johnson credits the players’ hard work ethic and ability to buy into what the coaching staff is having them go over during the season. He also sees the effect the bond of the team and their use of teamwork has had on the performance of the honored Lion players.
“They’ve spent a lot of time working on their game, and they’ve allowed us to coach them and they’ve allowed us to push them outside their comfort zone,” said Johnson. “When you do that and you win, the benefits of winning and the rewards of that are the accolades that come with it. Those kids have bought in but you don’t win those awards without your teammates, and their teammates have sacrificed a lot and helped them do that.”
The Lions' regular season concluded following their 52-47 WCC tournament loss to Saint Mary’s, ending their best season record-wise in nearly a decade. With coach Johnson establishing a new culture in LMU men’s basketball, the team will have a foundation to build off of following their success this season.
“I think we have one of the best cultures in college basketball,” said Johnson. “When I say that it’s how we operate, it’s how our guys are connected with each other, and how we’re bought into the greater good of the team and the University, I love that.”