THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Hosting the winless Bethesda Flames tonight at the Gilbert Arena, the Cal Lutheran men's basketball team dropped a tale of two halves, falling 59-56 to the non-conference opponent.
Despite a slow start, Connor McGuire won the opening tip-off for the Violet and Gold. After teeter-tottering over the first three and a half minutes, in which Bethesda earned its only lead of the half at 5-4, CLU pieced together a 6-0 run. Cal Lutheran opened the gap to as much as 12 points with 4:06 to play in the period when McGuire converted a layup to cap off a string of 11 consecutive points to break away after a mere 18-17 lead 12 minutes in. Bethesda closed out the half with six straight free-throws while the Violet and Gold were unable to find the bottom of the basket. The Kingsmen took a five-point, 29-23, advantage into the locker room.
After the break, the teams exchanged buckets until Bethesda hit four straight shots, including back-to-back three-pointers, to regain the lead at 45-44 with 8:32 to play in regulation. With momentum on its side, the visiting team earned as much as a five-point lead as the flames heated up and the Kingsmen cooled off.
Down the stretch, backs against the wall, CLU battled, chipping away and making it a one possession game with 10 seconds to play. A missed three-pointer was joined by an offensive rebound with 1.6 seconds, which forced a pair of timeouts. A last chance effort came up short on the final attempt of the night.
Adrian Francis was the only Cal Lutheran player to reach double figures with 18 points. Jeremy Sulker-Hall flirted with a double-double, recording eight points and eight rebounds, the most on the team tonight. McGuire finished with seven rebounds, two steals and a block while also handing out seven assists. Overall, CLU shot 37 percent with an 18.8 average from three-point range and a 68.4 percent night at the free-throw line. The Kingsmen grabbed 36 rebounds with nine offensive boards that turned into seven points.
Bethesda (1-7) was paced by Jorge Castro with 16 points, Justin Latham with 14 and Rufus Jemison Jr. with 12 while Curtis Wilson Jr. led all players with 15 rebounds. An opening half 22.2 team shooting percentage turned into a 48 percent performance in the second stanza to finish at 34.6 percent as a team overall.
Cal Lutheran (2-2) is out of competition until Friday, Dec. 18 when the Kingsmen welcome George Fox (Ore.) to Thousand Oaks for a 5:00 p.m. tip-off, preceding the women's basketball Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) opener at 7:30 p.m.