men's bball

Junior center Mattias Markusson, pictured above in a 72-53 victory over CSUN earlier this season, is averaging 11.1 points and seven rebounds per game with a team high of 15 blocks this season.

The LMU men’s basketball program (16-7, 4-5 WCC) has exhibited considerable improvement, transforming from a perennial conference cellar dweller to a competitive team with a new identity anchored by the No. 12 ranked defense in the country.

With 16 wins, this will be the first season since 2011-2012 that the Lions will end with a winning overall record. After finishing last season with an 11-20, 5-13 West Coast Conference (WCC) record, the program appears to be progressing with better player development and recruitment. One of the biggest improvements from last season has been the team’s 10-1 record at Gersten Pavilion, compared to the 7-7 home record the year before.

The biggest reason for LMU’s successful season has been their defense, allowing opponents an average of just 62 points per game. Head coach Mike Dunlap explained that the two biggest improvements he hopes to see in the second half of the season are limiting the number of turnovers and improving three-point shooting. The Lions are ranked No. 199 overall in the country with 309 total turnovers, an average of 13.4 per game, and No. 286 in three-point shooting percentage, at 32.1 percent, according to NCAA Division I team statistics.

“Our defense is one of the best in the country, so we want to keep improving there and see if we can get inside the top 10 in the country,” Dunlap said.

Every team is destined to face adversity throughout any season, and how a team responds to obstacles is a crucial component of the team’s chemistry. Dunlap commented on the team’s ability to overcome injuries throughout the season.

The Lions began the season without sophomore forward Eli Scott, who missed two months due to mononucleosis, and senior guard Jeffery McClendon, who missed a month because of a torn fascia in his foot.

Despite a strong defense, the Lions have struggled against conference opponents, most notably due to their struggles on the offensive end. The Lions’ overall field goal percentage sits at 45.5 percent, ranking No. 137 in the nation, and No. 296 in scoring offense at 68 points per game.

“I want us to be able to score more points and so we’re putting an emphasis on that, as we did with today’s practice,” said Dunlap. “And then, second is that I want [the team] to be fresh, so you have to shorten your practices and you also have to have them feel good about who they are.”

The Lions’ leading scorer, senior guard James Batemon, averages 16.6 points per game and 3.7 assists per game, while shooting 41.7 percent from the field, 28.2 percent from three and 83.4 from the free throw line. Batemon also leads the Lions with 39 steals, 86 assists and a free-throw shooting percentage of 83.4.

“We’re stopping teams and keeping them under 50, 60 points. But [offensively], some games we go on little scoring slumps and won’t get enough ball movement and stuff like that,” said Batemon. “[We need to be] more consistent on the offensive end, because our defense is top in the country.”

Batemon shared that the victories against high profile programs, such as Georgetown and UNLV, helped the team gain confidence early on in the season.

Other players who are producing for the Lions at a high level are junior center Mattias Markusson, forward Scott, freshman guard/forward Dameane Douglas and sophomore guard Joe Quintana.

Markusson currently averages 11.1 points and seven rebounds per game with a team-high 15 blocks. Since returning to the starting lineup after being out for two months, Scott averages 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. Douglas averages 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 70.6 percent from three, making 12 of 17 three-point attempts. Quintana averages 7.8 points per game and is second on the team with 32 steals.

“[We] just want to finish the second half of the season strong [by] getting as [many] wins as we can going into the [WCC] tournament, so we can get a good seed and come out strong at the WCC tournament and try to win that,” Quintana said.

With seven games left in the regular season, the Lions look to gain some momentum before the conference tournament by winning the remainder of their conference matchups. After suffering a tough loss last weekend at BYU when they surrendered a halftime lead, the Lions will return to Gersten Pavilion on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. against conference rival San Diego (15-8, 4-4 WCC).

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