Well, I was wrong. Way wrong. In my game preview, I said that LMU would win this game by sixteen points and that UC Riverside would struggle to keep up against an LMU team that is prone to pushing the tempo and pressing hard on defense. Instead, the UC Riverside team that showed up tonight came to play. They weren’t simply going to roll over. This is a UC Riverside team that played Pepperdine tough earlier in the season and they came out tonight intent on picking up the home win.
The game started off quite even. Both teams were going back and forth and scoring with relative ease. Then it happened. LMU went on a monster run based around quick play, free throw shooting, and UC Riverside turnovers. The Lions jumped out to a 33-20 lead and it looked like this game was about to get real ugly real quick for the Highlanders. They were reeling, but began to come charging back, and were able to reduce the lead to four because of sloppy play by the Lions, full of missed shots and turnovers. The Lions went on a run of their own, however, and went into the break up by eight points. The second half was much closer though, with UC Riverside even regaining the lead at one point. LMU managed to pull out to a nine point lead at the and began to let the Highlanders back in the game, but a dunk by Gabe Levin sealed the win for LMU and propelled the Lions to a 6-2 record.
That trend ended up being the story of the entire game. It seemed like every time LMU would pull out in front with a large lead, they could never hold onto it and let UC Riverside claw their way back into it, but whenever the Highlanders would get close, LMU would pull away again. It is definitely a problem LMU has had this season. The Lions have been playing well, but just can’t close out games. We saw that all too much in the Paradise Jam, especially in the 5th place game against Vanderbilt.
Despite all of this, the Lions found producers in many players tonight. Gabe Levin earned a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while also crashing the offensive glass often, leading to many second-chance opportunities for the Lions, as they had twenty-three second chance points in the game. Anthony Ireland also was a bright spot as usual, as he played 35 minutes tonight and hit two big time threes at very opportune moments. He can shoot like crazy and has really perfected that straightaway three point shot. And, as I said previously, the scoring was really spread out, as the Lions found some offensive stability in their bench, as they provided twenty-one points for the Lions tonight.
The Lions are now 6-2, their best start since the 2006/2007 season. LMU now travels to Pittsburgh and will play in the Petersen Events Center this Friday. The game will be so tough, as Pitt is hard to beat at the Petersen Events Center in general, let alone in non-conference play. LMU must play better than they did tonight against a weak Riverside team if they want any shot at beating the Panthers.
Another game, another win. Go Lions.