It was like old times Saturday night at Loyola Marymount’s Gersten Pavilion, with the Lions pulling out a 129-126 victory over the touring Czechoslavakian national basketball team.
But this game had a few new twists for the Lions, who were without leading scorers Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Jeff Fryer. All were in street clothes nursing minor leg injuries.
Following last year’s script, the Lions fell behind early then put on their patented first-half spurt to take a 16-point lead. But in another departure from last year’s pattern, the Lions surrendered all of the lead by early in the second half and found themselves trailing into the final minute.
The Lions finally pulled even 124-all with 1:02 left, but the Czechs took a 126-124 lead with 40 seconds left. Senior guard Enoch Simmons, named team captain earlier this week, tied the game with a jumper from the left side with 15 seconds to play. The Lions’ press forced a Czech in-bounds turnover, and Simmons won the game at the 4-second mark with a three-pointer.
“We’re out for the impossible, and the impossible isn’t easy to come by,” Lions Coach Paul Westhead said. “You play an exhibition game to find your weaknesses and strengths, try some combinations. The whole second half we were trying to win. We were playing just as hard as we could.”
Westhead estimated the Lions would have been “significantly better” with his returning starters in uniform, but the game provided an opportunity for several new players to step forward.