One way to get an otherwise obscure game into the college basketball spotlight-at least relatively speaking in a time on the sport calendar when bowl games of even the most unequivocally mediocre variety hold sway-is to be the only game on the schedule for an entire day.
Loyola Marymount can’t be faulted for its efforts to make the most of its game at Gersten Pavilion against Morgan State on Monday. The game one day after Christmas was the lone contest in all of NCAA Division I, and LMU offered free admission, free parking and $1 hot dogs for those in attendance.
It was some creative scheduling and a terrific deal for fans in Los Angeles, who had every opportunity to get a look at what just may wind up being a very good Division I team. The Lions have a chance to make some noise in the West Coast Conference this year and improved to 7-4 overall by taking care of Morgan State 70-49 Monday evening.
LMU never trailed in winning for the fifth time in six games, methodically wearing down its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent that traveled across the country from Baltimore for a two-game California trip that will also include a game at Cal State-Northridge on Thursday. Steven Haney scored 24 for the Lions, including 22 in the second half, and Buay Tuach notched the double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) while Hawaii transfer Stefan Jovanovic also added seven offensive rebounds on the way to 14 points. The Bears, meanwhile, played without high-scoring Tiwian Kendley, a 22.9-ppg sniper who missed another game with a stress fracture in his foot, and Todd Bozeman’s team continued to struggle to score without him, shooting just 34.5%.
Since the school’s legendary 1990 Elite Eight run after the tragic death of Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount has seemingly been in an almost perpetual rebuilding mode. LMU has just four winning seasons since 1992, and its WCC title and NCAA bid in 1990 were also the last of both for the Lions. That’s right: it’s been 26 years and counting since Gathers, Bo Kimble, Jeff Fryer and company were bombing away for Paul Westhead, scoring 120 points per game with 15 more seconds on the shot clock than we have now.
Loyola Marymount this year, though, has recent wins on the road at Colorado State and by 16 points over a solid Portland State team, plus a one-point loss to Boise State and three-point losses to Connecticut and streaking Texas-Arlington. Coach Mike Dunlap has a roster that can be called veteran, if not exactly all experienced for LMU; the Lions feature five seniors, though two-Jovanovic and former Iona big man Kelvin Amayo-are graduate transfers.
Loyola could finish in the top half of an improved WCC…or could just be a team that is going to live on the edge all year. Seven of its games have been decided by seven points or less, including the previous six before Monday’s win. Clearly, the Lions’ margin for error is thin, especially with their 65.8% foul shooting that ranks in the bottom 100 in Division I.
The good news is: they will get every opportunity to build some momentum very early in the WCC schedule. LMU hosts Saint Mary’s and BYU in its first two conference games this week. The opportunity is there. Win both, and Loyola will be far more than a curiosity for being the only team to host a game the day after Christmas.
- The Big Ten gets conference play under way in earnest today, with four days remaining in December. It’s not a trend we’re particularly fond of (it feels wrong starting league play when the students are away on holiday break between semesters), but more and more are going with it. The first game is Northwestern at Penn State (3 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2) while the most intriguing is certainly Michigan State going to Minnesota (9 p.m., ESPN2), with the Golden Gophers possessing a golden opportunity to get off to a good start in conference against a Spartan team still finding its way.
- Kent State is coming off an ugly 19-point loss to struggling Oregon State, and the Golden Flashes now go to Texas, which may have shown a glimpse of turning it around when drubbing UAB in its last game (7 p.m., ESPNU).
- SMU travels to Memphis to open American play (9 p.m., ESPNU), with the Tigers in a position similar to Minnesota, with a terrific chance for a big win at home to announce themselves as contenders at the start of league play.
Have a very nice Tuesday.