LOS ANGELES — As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Loyola Marymount's shocking 74-66 victory over Gonzaga on Thursday night, freshman Ashley Hamilton approached the student section and offered a timely suggestion.
"Ya'll gotta rush the court," he shouted
Sure enough, the first LMU student leapt over a five-foot metal railing, landed on a courtside media table and careened onto the court. The next few shoved past security guards futilely stationed at the foot of the stairs. Soon a maroon-clad sea of bodies had flooded mid-court to celebrate LMU's first victory over a ranked opponent since the height of the Bo Kimble era in 1990.
"Unbelievable," LMU forward Drew Viney said. "It's been tough in the last couple years to get fans to come to games, but with the team we have this year, they've got something to watch now. It's been 20 years with losing teams, and we're finally giving them a reason to come out and watch us."
For an injury-plagued LMU team projected to finish last in the WCC before the season, this victory was proof that the program is finally on an upswing under second-year coach Max Good after two decades of near irrelevance. The Lions (14-13, 5-6) have now won four out of six to move within one game of San Francisco for fourth place in the league.
LMU held Gonzaga to 27 second-half points and 34.4 percent shooting for the game by gearing their defense to hold stars Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris in check and daring the other players to beat them. Harris rarely touched the ball without a crowd of defenders around him in a 13-point, 11-rebound performance, while Bouldin got a handful of open looks but still missed 10 of his first 11 shots to finish with a quiet 10 points.
Of course the biggest keys for LMU are the emergence of Viney as a bonafide star in his first season of eligibility since transferring from Oregon and the development of a handful of players who missed time with injuries earlier this season. Starters Hamilton and Jarred Dubois and key reserve Larry Davis missed last month's 85-69 loss at Gonzaga as a result of injury, but the trio combined for 35 points against the Zags on Thursday to help lead LMU back from a three-point halftime deficit.
"At full strength, we're a tough team to beat," Viney said. "We've been struggling with injuries the whole year, but now that we have our whole team back, we're kind of on top of the world."
Are the Lions a true threat to upset Gonzaga on a neutral court in Las Vegas and win next month's conference tournament? Probably not. But with no seniors on the roster, four sophomores in the lineup and the memory of this win to draw upon, LMU may be dangerous in the future.