Leopards withstand Eagles’ challenge for their first win of the season

Sarah Van Buskirk
Assistant Sports Editor

The men’s basketball team battled tightly with the Embry-Riddle Eagles and came out on top, 72-70, for their first win of the season Saturday at the Franz Athletic Court.

“We played hard and didn’t give up,” senior guard Isaiah Knox said. “We got the result we wanted in the end.”

The Leopards won the tip off and headed straight for the net. After a few passing sequences around the top of the circle, junior guard Paul Antonis drained a three pointer to start off the game hot for the Leopards.

On the Eagles’ first scoring opportunity, Antonis fouled sophomore guard Chase Verdugo to give him two free throw attempts. Verdugo successfully executed both and closed in on the Leopard’s lead, 3-2.

The Leopards had possession but began losing connection between passes and turned over the ball to the Eagles. Shortly after, Verdugo made a jump shot putting the Eagles ahead of the Leopards, 4-3.

Back and forth play continued until junior guard Brad Yasukochi got a defensive rebound from an Eagle missed layup and passed to senior guard John Malone II, who put the ball in the net from the three-point line, extending the Leopards lead to 6-3. 

“We took a step forward with moving the ball and rebounding,” Yasukochi said. “This wasn’t a one-person win, this was a whole team win.”

The Leopards and Eagles maintained scoring drives and kept the score within a two-point difference. Then six minutes passed and the Leopard defense began to slip and they found themselves down 18-10 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the half.

Sophomore forward Kyler Harvey changed the momentum when he made a jump shot to close the gap to six points. A few minutes later Malone was given two free throw attempts, missing the first one but making the next, making the score 18-13.

For the remaining five minutes of the half, the two teams continued to battle, keeping the score tight only within a few point difference. The Leopards began gaining on the Eagles and with 52 seconds left, Harvey made a three-point jump shot to tie the game, 24-24. 

Soon after junior forward Austin Rapp was fouled and given two free throw attempts. He missed the first one but drained the next which ended the half with the Leopards on top, 25-24.

The Leopards went 8-for-17, 47.1% from the free throw line.

“We need to work on our free throw shooting,” Malone said. “And just being able to close out and stay focused while not taking our foot off the pedal.”

The second half started off hot for the Leopards when a steal by Malone resulted in a shot made. The Eagles quickly tied the game up again but the Leopards would just put themselves right back in the lead. 

The game was not being ruled by either team as the Eagles found themselves one point ahead then two points down then tied up again. Finally the Leopards got a hold of the score and managed to create a 10-point deficit after another three point jump shot by Malone, making the score 42-32.

The Leopards remained in the lead for the next 16 minutes, but the Eagles were not going to give up that easy as their offense began to wake up. 

With nine seconds left in the game, the Eagles made a comeback to cut their deficit to 69-68. Antonis drew a foul and hit both free throws to widen the lead again as the Leopards continued to push for the win. 

Eagle junior guard Connor Verdugo added to the board with a layup, putting the score at 71-70.

With two seconds left, Leopard junior forward Seth Shaw was fouled and made the final free throw of the game, making the final score 72-70.

“We had a really good week of practice and our coaches had prepared us well,” Shaw said. “So we didn’t see any surprises out on the court and all we had to do was execute the game plan.”

The Leopards hosted Linfield on Tuesday and fell, 84-67.

They traveled to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Wednesday to open their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule against the Stags, losing 81-58.

The Leopards are currently 1-5 overall and 0-1 in SCIAC.

The team will next host the Occidental Tigers at 2 p.m. Saturday at Frantz Athletic Court.

Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at sarah.vanbuskirk@laverne.edu.

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Sports Editor
Journalism Major
University of La Verne ‘24

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