The Point Loma Nazarene University men’s basketball team had the chance to play the reigning national finalist San Diego State University Aztecs on Monday, Nov. 27. The final score was 71-51.
PLNU held its own throughout the game and had some spurts in which it matched SDSU’s play, particularly in the first half. There were also some positive runs made by PLNU, but some chunks where SDSU had full control of everything going on. However, this could serve as a positive experience for a youthful PLNU basketball team.
Forward Luke Smith led the way for the Sea Lions, as he scored a career-high 19 points against the Aztecs. The Sea Lions got off to a hot start thanks to threes from him and guard Zack Paulsen, giving the Sea Lions a 6-2 lead two minutes into the game. SDSU went on a run to break it open a bit before PLNU brought it back to within six points with about four minutes left in the half. Then, the Aztecs went on another burst that put them up twelve at the half, and they kept a steady foot on the gas, remaining in control the rest of the game.
However, PLNU was scrappy throughout the entire game. The Sea Lions were physical, drew a couple of charges and worked hard until that final buzzer. The killer was the shotmaking. The Sea Lions were 17 for 59 from the field and 9 for 33 from the three-point line, five of those coming from Smith. If the shotmaking was a bit better, it could have been even closer than it was against the reigning D1 runner-up. PLNU was also without their starting point guard, Jake Lifgren, for this matchup.
As a fan of the team, I thought there was a lot of good to take away from this game. The Aztecs were pressuring the ball quite a bit, guarding the point guard full court and often trapping when the ball passed the mid-court line. Despite the pressure and being overmatched physically, PLNU handled the pressure pretty well, typically being able to get into their half-court offense.
Obviously, there were some mistakes and a few turnovers, but they actually forced more turnovers than they gave up (12 for PLNU, 14 for SDSU). I see this as a great sign for the regular season. Taking care of the ball is incredibly important; hold on to the ball, and you’re more likely to score. If PLNU can keep control of the ball against a team as competitive and ferocious as SDSU, that bodes well for them when getting into PacWest play, which begins Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. in Golden Gym against Concordia University Irvine.
With all of PLNU’s starting lineup from last year being either gone or hurt, and a new head coach, there was a lot of uncertainty as to how this group would fill the big shoes of last year’s juggernaut. With that being said, in general, I’ve liked what I’ve seen this season. This Sea Lions team has a young core and will have time to mesh and improve in working together as the season goes on. I trust that shotmaking will improve and isn’t going to consistently be in the 30% range. PLNU has multiple guys who can shoot from the outside as well as big bodies that can get inside and be physical.
With conference play coming up, that’ll be the real test for this PLNU squad. My hope for the Sea Lions is they reflect upon the areas in which they were exposed by SDSU, such as rebounding and occasional stagnant offense. If the Sea Lions play as hard as they did against the Aztecs all season and make some minor adjustments, I like their chances of having a successful regular season.