Men’s basketball splits games vs. LMU, Abilene Christian

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

Nov. 26, 2014
Lions 66 – Highlanders 62

In a game that featured 49 fouls and 44 turnovers, the Loyola Marymount Lions and UC Riverside Highlanders grinded out a seesaw match that eventually went the way of the Lions, 66-62. UCR built a 13-point lead at the half, but several turnovers and a spirited effort by LMU’s Evan Payne dashed the Highlanders’ hopes of a second consecutive victory of the season.

UC Riverside jumped out to an 11-2 lead and led 25-12 with 6:18 left in the half after Charles Standifer connected on a three-pointer. The Lions, who committed 13 turnovers in the half, started to generate offense, closing the half on an 18-6 run. LMU’s Matt Hayes knocked down a pair of three-pointers during the run to help the Lions pull to within one, 31-30, at intermission.

Starting point guard Nick Gruninger was called for his second technical foul and ejected from the contest only a few minutes into the second half. With UCR’s offense struggling without Gruninger, LMU scored seven straight points at 43-40 to reach a double-digit lead for the first time on the night.

The Lions kept their cushioned lead until 61-51, when Taylor Johns started to dominate on the offensive end. The power forward scored 10 points late in the period to pull the once down-and-out Highlanders to within three points, 61-58, with 1:15 left.

With 30 seconds left and down by three, the Highlanders again fed the ball to Johns, but the Highlander had his shot attempt blocked by Payne. The ball fell into the hands of Hayes, and the rest of the game was decided by free throws. The Lions made five-of-six from the charity stripe to seal the victory, 66-62.

Johns led UCR with 23 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Jaylen Bland poured in 15 points while Gruninger tallied 11 points and three steals in 23 minutes of play.

LMU’s Payne finished the contest with a game-high 25 points, converting 15-of-16 from the free-throw line. The Lions were extremely efficient from the charity stripe, hitting 26-of-30 (86.7 percent). The Highlanders went 12-for-19 (63.2 percent).

Nov. 29, 2014
Highlanders 76 – Wildcats 56

The UC Riverside men’s basketball team (3-3) looked ready for conference play on Saturday afternoon at the Student Recreation Center Arena as the Highlanders dismantled the Abilene Christian Wildcats, 76-56.

The Wildcats never led in the contest. The Highlanders started the game with a Steven Thornton three-pointer and their offense never slowed down. With 10 minutes left in the half, the home team already lead by 18 points, 28-10, and finished at intermission up by 19 points, 41-22.

The Highlanders shot 48.5 percent from the field while connecting on six-of-11 three-pointers. Abilene Christian misfired on 19-of-25 shots for an abysmal 24 percent.

After intermission, the Wildcats continued to struggle against the inside presence from Riverside. The Highlanders outscored their opponents, 38-11, in the paint and outrebounded the Wildcats, 47-21. Abilene Christian cut the lead to 17 points on several occasions, but could get no closer as UCR won the contest, 76-56.

Johns again led the Highlanders with 14 points and 13 rebounds while Alex Larsson tallied 12 points and 11 rebounds.

UC Riverside next travels to face Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 2.

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