By Manny Nunez
Sitting at 18-5 coming in to Los Angeles, the BYU Cougars have been fighting hard to stay relevant to be noticed. From time to time they have floated up and down the rankings while staying atop as one of the best mid-major schools in the NCAA.
LMU didn’t seem to play into their favor however in Thursday night’s 76-69 win over the Cougars. Oppositions have struggled for most of the season, picking up only four wins in Division I with its last happening just under a month ago in an upset over San Francisco.
The tides had turned completely as the Lions dominated from the start. LMU had by far its best defensive outing of the season against one of the strongest teams in the conference, forcing the Cougars to commit to shooting from the outside after being down by double digits for most of the second half. The Lions ended up sustaining the lead in giving their home crowd a big 76-69 victory that also snapped a five-game skid.
“I am so happy for these guys,” Lions head coach Mike Dunlap. “We have had so many close bouts and it is nice to finally be on the winning side of one.”
— LMU Men's Basketball (@lmuhoops) February 2, 2018
LMU got what they needed on the floor from their prime scorers where Eli Scott and James Bateman combined for 47 points. Both teams were nearly equivalent on the boards. In fact on paper most of the stats didn’t really favor much on either side. The main difference: BYU had no answer from the perimeter and could not recover from giving up the ball 16 times with 14 steals. At one point the Cougars missed 14 three pointers in a row and finished shooting 5-for-24 from beyond the arc. LMU also finished with 24 points off of turnovers, leading the charge in controlling the pace.
“It was crucial to stay hot defensively,” Dunlap said. “When we played in Provo they were shooting lights out from everywhere. We didn’t change much of our game plan except to force them to shoot from outside. Tonight it all worked when our defense forced everything from outside their shooting range and it took away a lot of momentum.”
Only a handful of times were the Cougars able to cut the lead to two possessions in the second half with Elijah Bryant trying to take over in the final few minutes. In every occasion it was Scott and Bateman who doused the flame with key buckets and hitting their free throws late.
“Bateman and Scott have been perennial for us,” Dunlap said. “I am real proud of these guys by how hard they have worked. Tonight that work paid off and it benefited.”
This season the Lions have had their fair share of tough losses. Nine of them have come from single digits. This time around, for Dunlap and the rest of his squad, a lot of weight was lifted off the shoulders to be on the right side one that was more than well deserved.