THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - The Cal Lutheran men's basketball team started off 2015 without missing a beat on their way to defeating La Verne 66-50 in their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) opener on Saturday night in Gilbert Arena.
After upsetting No. 9 Illinois Wesleyan and winning the Thrivent Financial Tournament earlier in the week, the Kingsmen continued to fire from all cylinders against La Verne and picked up their sixth straight win.
Fresh off being named the Thrivent Financial Tournament MVP, Arik Smith showed no signs of slowing down accounting for 11 of the team's first 13 points. After an opening lay-up from Coltrane Powdrill, Smith went on a tear scoring 11 straight points for the Kingsmen, including two deep three-pointers and a lay-up at the hoop that resulted in a three-point play. Smith converted the free-throw with 11:05 remaining in the first half to give CLU a 13-11 lead.
The Kingsmen continued to build their lead and would never trail for the rest of the game. Lanaki Apele entered the game and made a quick lay-up followed by a steal that led to free-throws for Martin Flowers.
Freshman Kellen Birdsall got his first taste of SCIAC competition with four minutes of action and added a lay-up and a steal to help the Kingsmen gain control of the game.
After a brief period of rest, Smith came back into the game and made his presence felt immediately by scoring six straight points capped off with an emphatic two-hand dunk on a fast break.
CLU extended their lead to 16 points after a lay-up from Powdrill gave the Kingsmen a 38-22 lead at halftime.
Out of the break, the Leopards were more aggressive on the offensive end and started firing from long range. After attempting just four three-pointers in the first half, La Verne shot 12 in the second half.
Cruz Mertens knocked down three three-pointers for the Leopards and another three from Khaneal Mason capped off a 19-6 run to start the half and bring the Kingsmen lead to just four points, 44-40 with 12:17 remaining.
That was the closest La Verne would get as CLU began to extend their lead by capitalizing off of turnovers. The Kingsmen had 10 points off turnovers in the second half and Flowers had a strong half with 10 points of his own.
Two free-throws by Dan Wade with just two seconds left gave CLU a 66-50 lead and matched their biggest lead of the game of 16 points.
Powdrill led all players in the game with 22 points and Smith finished with 17 points, all of which came in the first half, and 11 rebounds. Flowers added 13 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
Mertens led the way for the Leopards with 13 points and Hakim Arnold added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Cal Lutheran (7-2, 1-0 SCIAC) will continue conference action at home this Tuesday, Jan. 6 against Redlands at 7:30 p.m.
Box Score: CLU 66, LV 50
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