The men’s basketball team stayed within 10 points of UC Santa Cruz during the first half of their game Saturday but fell short in the end, 76-68.
“Our game plan was to try to keep them out of the paint, playing sagging defense. We felt like their strength was their post guys,” head coach Richard Reed said.
After also dropping Wednesday’s game to Cal Lutheran, 76-63, the Leopards now stand at eighth in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 2-9 record and an overall record of 2-18.
The game started off with a layup made by Santa Cruz’s junior center Haakon Ullrich, but La Verne immediately retaliated with a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Sinai Enoch.
The battle escalated as the score switched leads 14 times and tied eight times.
Leopards sophomore forward Tyler Ridley tied it up in the last 30 seconds of the half by swishing two free throws.
It seemed as though the Leopards and Slugs were going to be going into the second half even at 28 points. It was not until the Leopards freshman guard Paul Antonis regained possession of the ball and sank a cross court shot at the halftime buzzer to pull ahead, 31-28.
Despite the Leopards three point lead, the Slugs fought back by doubling their points in the second half, putting up 48 points to the Leopards’ 37, that secured Slugs’ 76-68 win.
“We wanted to kind of keep our guy in front and then be in position to rebound the basketball which we did in the first half and we did not do in the second half,” Reed said.
Enoch led the team with 13 points, followed by senior forward Jarid Taylor, who put up 10 points for the Leopards.
Junior guard Jordan Allen also contributed with seven points, four rebounds, and two assists.
“I think our biggest two things holding us back is rebounds and turnovers. That’s been our biggest plagues going on this season,” Allen said.
The Leopards, in fact, did win the turnover and rebound battle that they said needed to improve, as the Slugs had 12 turnovers and 32 rebounds while the Leopards had 10 turnovers and 35 rebounds.
However, the Slugs won the points-in-the-paint battle with 54 points while the Leopards had 24 points.
Enoch said the team tried to slow the tempo by defending and getting stops so they could limit the transition up the court.
“My goal is honestly to just finish as strong as we can. We only have like five games left so just leave it all out on the court and play for each other,” he said.
Since their first game on Nov. 15, the Leopards have had a rocky season, losing their first 13 games. However, they made a comeback in January, winning two games back-to-back against Chapman, 68-60, and Cal Lutheran, 68-55.
The Leopards’ first win against Chapman consisted of Enoch contributing 22 of their 68 points. Allen clenched his second double-double of the season, finishing with 16 points and a career high of 12 rebounds. Taylor also helped secure the win during a crucial time in the game. With the scores tied at 56, Taylor started off their 12-4 run with a three-pointer. Taylor also shot 9 for 10 at the free-throw line.
In their game against Cal Lutheran, Enoch finished with 11 points, despite having to be sent to the bench for getting into foul trouble early on. Allen also contributed with 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
Taylor produced a season high of 19 points and 11 rebounds, 13 of his points being scored in the second half.
Taylor said that the team has good camaraderie and is a strong shooting team, but has struggled to adapt to sudden changes during games.
“Since I’m going to be out of here next year, I just want to leave a legacy for the guys. That they have something positive to go off of,” Taylor said, “just continue loving on each other and being a family no matter what the results are.”
The Leopards are home for their next two games, hosting Chapman at 2 p.m. Saturday and Occidental at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Noelle Blumel can be reached at email@example.com.