La Verne’s 24-year absence from the postseason tournament ended after the men’s basketball team defeated No. 14 ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 75-68, Saturday at Frantz Athletic Court.
The Leopards improved their overall record to 15-7 and their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record to 9-4, good for second in the conference.
Claremont suffered its second conference loss all season. La Verne junior center Dylan McElligott said he credits the team’s toughness for pulling out the win.
“I think it was a testament to our strength,” McElligott said. “Our mental strength, our physical strength, how we were able to come away with this game.”
La Verne’s leading scorer was senior guard Kendall McClain, who had 19 points on 7-10 shooting, including going a perfect 5-5 from the three point line.
Junior guard Anthony White also contributed 17 points.
The Leopards had their biggest lead of the first half after a three pointer by McClain made it 21-11 with 12:21 left in the game.
Claremont’s offense, however, came alive later in the half, outscoring La Verne 21 to 11 to tie the game at 32 at halftime.
Turnovers, which head coach Richard Reed said is one of the things La Verne needs to improve on, plagued the team the entire game, especially in the first-half. The Leopards had eight turnovers in the first half of play and Claremont scored 14 points from La Verne’s mistakes.
La Verne was able to break away in the second half by holding Claremont to less than 40 percent shooting, while the Leopards shot 56 percent from the field.
The field-goal disparity, however, still wasn’t enough to give La Verne an easy victory, as the game came down to free throws, where the Leopards shot 87 percent in the second half.
“We know the road through the SCIAC playoffs goes through Claremont,” junior guard Ryan McHenry said. “They were comfortably in the lead, so being able to beat them really gives us confidence that in the SCIAC tournament we’ll be able to get the job done as well.”
The win also was Reed’s 100th victory at the school, but Reed was quick to attribute his success to the great teams he has coached over the years.
“It just means I’ve been fortunate in two things,” Reed said. “Sticking around long enough and coaching some good players.”
This has been a season of accomplishments for Reed, as he will be making the SCIAC tournament for the first time in his career, but he is more concerned on keeping the team focused on the immediate future.
“I’m only looking at our next practice and our next game,” Reed said. “Looking ahead too much can cause a team to slip up.”
La Verne has a road trip to Cal Lutheran at 4 p.m. Saturday before they close out the season against Whittier at 7 p.m. Tuesday at home.
Chris McMahan can be reached at email@example.com.