Despite scoring 109 points in the season opener and defeating Westcliff by a whopping 41 points, the Lions hit the weight room immediately after their impressive victory. This new look Lion’s team is hungry and constantly looking to get better — even after a blowout win like tonight’s.
While this team may not yet have a clear standout star like the Lion’s had last season in Cam Shelton, impressive play from the returning seniors, transfers, and a highly touted freshman prove this team is very deep as seven Lions scored in double digits. Merkviladze led the way with 18 points while Leaupepe contributed 15. The other three starters Thiemann, Wright, and Hill- also reached double figures in scoring
First-game jitters were very present for the Lions early on in the game as they started off 0-6 from three and 1-4 from the free throw line through the first eight minutes of the game. The Lions were down 26-19 at the 7:03 mark in the first half before going on a 15-0 run ended only by a Westcliff timeout after a three from Lion forward Alex Merkviladze. The Lions would go on to be ahead for the remainder of the game.
Freshman forward Aaron McBride played a large role in the 15-0 that shifted the tide of the game. McBride checked into the game at the five minute mark, grabbed an offensive rebound on his first possession, and then blocked a Westcliff layup on their subsequent possession. Coach Stan Johnson went on to name the freshman the player of the game in his collegiate debut.
“What changed the whole game was Aaron McBride came in”. Coach Johnson said in the postgame press conference. “He got a defensive stop, a block. He got a loose ball, he dove on the floor. It ignited all kinds of energy, we went on a run and we never looked back.”
Senior captains Keli Leaupepe and Alex Merkviladze led the way in the first half. Leaupepe finished with 13 first half points and Merkviladze had 11. Leaupepe ended the first half with a thrilling three pointer from the logo to beat the buzzer and put the Lions up 46-34.
The student section was electric to start the second half, standing up and chanting “defense” for the first couple of possessions.
Two minutes into the second half, a Lars Thiemann dunk shifted the energy even further, proving the Lions were ready to come out strong in the second half. Thiemann finished with 7 rebounds and 13 points in only 18 minutes of play
By the midway point of the second half, LMU was able to increase the lead to 79-42, making the game all but over for Westcliff. At this point, the crowd was still not sitting down.
Junior guard and first year player for the Lions Will Johnston played 23 minutes and finished with 11 points, but was making all the little plays that can be reflected in the box score. Johnston led the Lions in rebounds (eight), steals (three), and was second on the team with assists (four). He was also one of three Lions to record a block.
The Lions were feeling confident with only a few minutes left in the game, so coach Johnson called for a substitution. Walk-on sophomore guard Kevin Carney then trotted onto the court, meaning all 11 active players appeared in the game, which doesn’t happen very often in Division I basketball. Carney made his debut for the Lions after a timeout with a little over 3 minutes left in the game. Carney made his presence felt as he was able to draw a charge on defense. For those final three minutes of the game, Lions fans chanted “Kevin” with hopes of him scoring, however, he missed his only three-point field goal attempt.