CLAREMONT, Calif. — Cruz Mertens scored 19 points, Hakim Arnold had 18 and the University of La Verne men's basketball team used a second-half surge to beat Pomona-Pitzer, 61-57, at Voelkel Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
La Verne improves to 5-6 overall and 1-1 in SCIAC play while last season's SCIAC regular season runner-up Pomona-Pitzer drops to 2-9 and 0-2.
Arnold had eight rebounds to go along with his 18 points.
Mertens had an incredible 12 points in the first 5:11 of the second half to give the Leopards a 44-41 lead and although the Sagehens came back to tie it, La Verne never gave up the lead. Mertens hit his first three attempts—all from beyond the arc—and drew a three-shot foul on his fourth attempt to lead the initial charge.
If Mertens started La Verne's rally, Arnold finished it. After Pomona-Pitzer tied the game at 55-55, Arnold hit a 15-foot pull-up jumper with 5:38 to go and nailed an 18-footer with 3:45 left to give the Leopards a 59-55 lead.
That was all La Verne needed. Gibson Farone-Collins hit a little hook on the Sagehens' next possession to cut the lead to two, but the Leopards forced the Sagehens' to miss their last seven shots without fouling to preserve the win.
Josiah Sukumaran, who collected a game-high 11 rebounds, tiptoed the baseline for a crucial defensive rebound with 18 seconds to go, called a timeout and La Verne drew a foul on the ensuing out-of-bounds play. Mertens then hit the front end of his pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game and seal the game for La Verne.
Only three Leopards scored in the second half. Arnold and Mertens combined for 25 of 31 points in the half while Brett Stephan supplied six points off the bench.
A big key for La Verne was containing Pomona-Pitzer's back court duo of Kyle McAndrews and Hunter Lowry as the pair went into the game averaging over 25 points per game. While both did combine to score 26 points, the Leopards limited them to just 12-of-41 shooting, including 1-10 from long range.
Farone-Collins did most of the damage for Pomona-Pitzer. The big forward finished with a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Khanel Mason handed out career-high nine assists and also had three steals for La Verne.
The Leopards return to action on Saturday when they host Whittier for a 4 p.m. tipoff at Frantz Court.Follow La Verne Athletics on Twitter @ULV_Athletics Follow La Verne Athletics on Instagram @ULV_Athletics
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