The men’s basketball team dropped its Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference home opener to Whittier, 92-66, Wednesday night at Frantz Athletic Court.
Despite the final score, La Verne led for almost the entire first half. After halftime, Whittier put the pressure on the Leopards by making shots and playing better defense. La Verne kept it close, but the Poets pulled away midway through the second half.
“We followed our game plan in the first half, which helped trigger our offense,” junior guard Alec Vucinich said. “In the second half we struggled handling their pressure, which led to turnovers that sparked their offense.”
La Verne came out aggressive and jumped on Whittier 6-0 to start the game. Both teams were battling early. After an offensive rebound by junior guard Cole Currie, he kicked the ball out to senior guard Connor Head for a three-pointer to extend the lead to 11-6. The Leopards used their defensive pressure to force the Poets into turnovers, which they transitioned into buckets.
“We did a good job of moving the ball from side to side,” Head said. “We got quality looks with our inside and perimeter game.”
With eight minutes to go in the first half, senior guard Victor Costa stole the ball and went coast to coast for a layup to extend the lead for the Leopards, 29-18. As the first half came to a close, Whittier started to get easier baskets around the rim and baskets in transition off Leopard turnovers. Whittier took the lead with just under three minutes to go in the half, and hit a floating layup as time expired to go into halftime leading, 38-34.
“Coach (Richard Reed) told us to play better defense and to keep guys in front of us,” Costa said. “Offensively, he said to be patient and take good shots.”
After halftime, the Leopards turned the ball over multiple times. The Poets used these turnovers to extend their lead to double digits, 44-34. After free throws from junior forward Brandon Rice and a layup from Head, La Verne cut the lead to 46-40 with 16 minutes to go.
The Poets used a 12-7 run to increase the lead back up to 47-60. From that point on, Whittier controlled the game.
With seven minutes to go, the Leopards got two free throws from Rice, a three-pointer from Head and a layup from Costa to force a timeout from Whittier while cutting the lead to 15.
That was the closest the Leopards would get, as the Poets got transition layups and more turnovers from La Verne to push the lead back up to over 20 and close the game out.
“As a team we need to learn how to finish games and minimize turnovers,” Rice said. “We know how to play well together, we just have not found it in game situations yet.”
La Verne drops to 0-1 in SCIAC play, and will continue action at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 against Knox College.
Mark Acosta can be reached at email@example.com.