The LMU men’s basketball team has had a rollercoaster of a week.
On Feb. 16, the Lions (18-11) faced off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-5) in front of a sold-out crowd in Gersten Pavilion for their second matchup of the season. After unexpectedly defeating Gonzaga 68-67 in Spokane for the first time since 1991 — the win ended Gonzaga’s 76-game home winning streak — LMU fans were primed for a repeat.
Hundreds of LMU students lined up outside the entrance, some for two and a half hours, hoping to score a last-minute ticket. Unfortunately, the buzzing pre-game excitement quickly faded once the game started. Many disappointed students left when the Lions were down 40 points at the half. The game ended with the Lions getting blown out 108-65.
“Every game we come in, we expect to win,” junior guard Jalin Anderson said. “Sadly, [Gonzaga] came out with a different mindset that game because they were disappointed how we beat them and broke their home streak…. Gonzaga is an elite team, so they displayed that.”
The loss was devastating, but the Lions sought to overcome it going into their senior night game on Saturday against the Pacific Tigers (13-16).
“Before the game, we just went over the small details, which is just playing defense, because that’s how this team wins,” Anderson said. “It all goes back to that.”
The game was a nail-biter but LMU narrowly beat Pacific 90-88. Cam Shelton, a graduate student guard, was instrumental in the win. With seven seconds left, Shelton made a layup to carry the Lions to victory. He scored 20 points in each half of the game for a career-high 40 points. He made 13 of 21 shots from the floor and 6 of 11 from 3-point range. He also made 8 of 11 free throws and grabbed five rebounds.
“I just wanted to do what I could do to help us win,” Shelton said of his performance. “We were struggling defensively for most of the game, so I tried to do what I could do to help us keep pace with them offensively, because they were scoring at such a high rate.”
Three other players scored in the double digits as well, including forward Alex Merkviladze (12), forward Keli Leaupepe (11), and guard Jalin Anderson (11).
“It was a good game because it was senior night,” Anderson said. “This is the last home game for all our seniors, so it felt really good to pull out a win.”
This season was the first time in program history that LMU has had two wins over top-15 teams in Gonzaga and St. Mary’s (24-5). They are the only team in West Coast Conference history to beat Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and BYU (16-14) in the same year.
The Lions hope to keep the momentum going for their last regular season game on Saturday against Pepperdine (9-19). If they win, they have the opportunity to get one of the top 4 seeds in the WCC tournament.
“We finished watching film and went over the Pacific game. And again, I’m going to keep saying it, it all comes down to defense, man,” Anderson said. “If we just go out there and play defense, we win a lot of games, and we have a great Saturday and lead up to the tournament.”