Mike Dunlap is very happy to be back in the Loyola Marymount community. Though it’s seen much change since he graduated from the school back in 1980, he’s excited to see what he can do for this LMU basketball program.
And though he’s been welcomed with open arms by his alma mater, he knows he has his work cut out for him. In an interview with the WCC This Week, Dunlap remained optimistic about this season for the Lions, stating that, “We can’t show any discouragement as we go through this… The work rate has been incredible. So it’s just getting to know the league and also being comfortable with the discomfort.”
I absolutely love that: being comfortable with the discomfort. There’s really no better way to word it, because there sure has been a lot of discomfort for the Lions this season. This patient approach that Dunlap is preaching is going to be crucial for his team moving forward, as proven by the Lions’ 72-63 loss to the St. Mary’s Gaels on Saturday.
The Gaels got off to a quick start in Gersten Pavilion, knocking down three wide open three pointers to begin play action. Kerry Carter, Aaron Bright, and Desmond Simmons sunk beautiful consecutive shots to get off to a 14-4 start.
Bright was absolutely on fire for the Gaels. He tallied six of St. Mary’s 11 three pointers and shot 41.1 percent from the field. He was the leader of the team against LMU with 24 points and six assists. Carter added 17 points, Garrett Jackson contributed 11, and Brad Waldow finished with a double-double, notching 13 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Evan Payne continued his string of dominating performances for Loyola Marymount, scoring 24 points and going 7-8 from the charity stripe. The only other player to score in double figures for LMU was David Humphries, who had ten points.
And though it wasn’t a pretty one for the Lions, there were definitely some positives in this game that should be noted.
Ignoring the first five minutes of the game, LMU was playing great defense. The Gaels were being forced to settle for ugly three pointers that weren’t falling. In fact, by the 3:52 mark of the first half, St. Mary’s had only made three of their last 19 shots. The Lions did a good job of getting stops on the defensive end and taking advantage of it on the other end of the floor. This technique didn’t really carry over to the second half, but it’s still a step in the right direction.
Secondly, we saw some great footage of Dunlap’s profound basketball mind at work. In the first half, he had already sent ten players onto the floor, working with a considerable number of different rotations. Dunlap is trying to find the right combination and get a sense of which players work best with each other and which rotations are most effective. He’s doing his homework, folks.
What’s most interesting, though, is that during LMU’s practice earlier that day, Evan Payne was taking very few shots during scrimmages. It was revealed that Dunlap has specifically told Evan not to focus on shooting during practice. Why? Because it’s a given. Payne can drop 20 points in his sleep. It’s the other aspects of his game (passing, setting up plays, etc.) that will be the focus for Payne this season. Dunlap recognizes how talented of a ball player Evan is, and he’s taking all the right steps in developing his star guard. It’s scary to think of how good Payne will be once the other elements of his game match his scoring. And with someone like Dunlap, who specializes in player development, being the guiding light, the sky really is the limit for this team.
Lastly, I’ve got to give some credit to St. Mary’s. Though they had some scoring droughts in the game, they did a great job of recognizing their mistakes and capitalizing on them in the second half.
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The Gaels were pulling down offensive rebounds like it was nothing, getting 16 second chance points throughout the game. They completely outmuscled the Lions and took control of the tempo, sealing this game up to get off to a 4-0 start in conference play.
Though their bench didn’t score a single point, they still managed to pull out a hefty win on an opposing court, which says a lot about their starting five. St. Mary’s is a talented team this year and is going to give Gonzaga and BYU a run for their money.
Next, the Gaels host non-conference opponent Morgan State on Tuesday, January 6 at 10:00 pm ET. Loyola Marymount will take the trip south to take on San Diego on Thursday, January 8 at 11:00 pm ET.