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LMU takes No. 3 Gonzaga to the wire

Despite falling short towards the end, Lions head coach Mike Dunlap called it a “long-term building block” for LMU’s basketball culture.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

There many things in LA to do on Valentines Day, but the LMU faithful packed the 3,900 seat Gersten Arena on Valentine’s day to watch LMU’s tough loss to Gonzaga. A few days after late LMU legend Hank Gathers 51st birthday, LMU put on a performance that was reminiscent LMU fans of the glory days in the late 1980’s.

LMU took a one point lead over Gonzaga with 8:45 left to go in the game. For Gonzaga, the game was in doubt before a late with a 13-2 run where the Zags defense were able to stifle LMU’s limited offense down the stretch.

Here are a few of our takeaways from Gonzaga’s 73-60 victory:

The Lions responded to Gonzaga’s physicality

Sparked by the biggest home crowd of the season, the Lions were able to punch the Zags in the mouth. The Lions came in as 21.5-point underdogs but the Lions didn’t play like it.

The Lions controlled the game during the first half dictating the pace, and were the much more physical team. LMU’s 7’3 forward Mattias Markusson scored seven of his 11 first half points before the first media timeout. The Lions came into the locker room and physical beat up Gonzaga on the inside. In the first half the Lions had 10 second chance points and outscored Gonzaga in the paint 24 to 10 — all while playing against Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura.

“I came out wanting to play aggressive against my guy,” Markusson said. “They may be more talented than me but I was more physical. The home crowd definitely gives you more energy.”

The Lions frustrating the Zags with their physicality was a common theme of throughout the game. The Lions dominated on the offensive glass, scoring 18 second-chance points and beat the Zags in the paint. LMU held Gonzaga to their lowest first half total of 32 points. LMU was able to confuse Zags early constantly switches and mixing up different defensive zone schemes. In result, the Zags shot just 9-28 from the field and just 2-13 from 3 during the first half. The Lions also took advantage of nearly all their second chance opportunities turning 6 of 8 of their offensive rebounds into points. The LMU fans were buzzing as the Lions only trailed Gonzaga 32-31 at the break.

The Lions kept pace with Gonzaga’s second half run

During the opening minutes of the second half, things seemed to turn as Perkins and Kispert hit two consecutive threes. The Zags looked bound to go on one of their infamous runs when they stretched their lead out to seven. Most teams fold during these moments.

However, the Lions never backed down during this game. After Lions head coach Mike Dunlap called a timeout, the Lions would prove their reliscency in this game once again while also proving the first half wasn’t a fluke.

“We called that timeout and told the team that sequence was a result of misfortune and we had to keep our head up,” Dunlap said. “We were able to respond quickly get the lead down to three and were able to take a lead. We played extremely well in the second half — it wasn’t just the first.”

In the second half, Mark Few turned two his biggest stars Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. About a half dozen L.A.-based NBA scouts came out to the game to watch the two potential first round picks play. Despite playing a sloppy contest both Clarke and Hachimura delivered. Clarke finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Hachimura scored 22 on 7-13 shooting, including a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line.

The Gonzaga closed the game with a 73-60 double digit victory. But Mark Few had to sweat and work extra hard to get this one.

A Test Gonzaga Needed

This was Gonzaga’s toughest test in the conference by far.

Previously, the Zags have cruised through a perfect record in conference winning each contest by double digits. There are going to be nights where the team has less energy, shots aren’t falling and things are not going entirely their way. In the end, on an imperfect night, Gonzaga was able to get a win on the road anyway. The WCC is good this year, and there multiple teams that are capable of giving Gonzaga a worthy fight.

Moral Victories Exist

Although his team didn’t pull out the victory, this was a culture-building performance for coach Dunlap’s team.

The Lions have been enjoying their best season in more than a decade and they capped it off by playing close to a Final Four-caliber team. The Lions played Gonzaga better than anyone in the conference and stifled them better than outside of Duke, Tennessee, and Washington. LMU was able to hang with Gonzaga despite hitting just one three point shot and shooting just 38.2% from the floor the entire game. If LMU guard James Batemon hits a few of his threes, the game would’ve turned out much differently.

“It’s a step of respect that [the Bulldogs] have been beating people by 50,” Dunlap said. “It was hell of a game its confidence builder. We have some young guys like Joe and Douglass, and we confirmed we can play with them. Now we have to work to the next step and beat them. We had a packed house and we they were able to see good basketball. They saw we can play we are not just dogs. It’s a long-term building block for the culture.”

It is very exciting time to be a LMU Lions fan. A program who has struggled to win constantly is finally on a positive uptick. The Lions have a solid young core and the LMU fan base is beginning to emerge again. Last night’s game was a stepping stone in accomplishing that feat.