Loyola Marymount maintained a share of first place in the West Coast Athletic Conference with a hard-fought 55-54 victory over Santa Clara before a season-high crowd of 2,972 Friday night at Loyola.
After trailing for much of the first half, Loyola built a nine-point lead after intermission on the shooting of Forrest McKenzie and Keith Smith.
Santa Clara fought back within a point before Loyola stopped the surge behind the play of sophomore Mike Yoest and freshman Enoch Simmons.
Simmons, the first guard off the bench, was scoreless in the first half but pumped in five straight jumpers in the second half to help Loyola build a 41-32 lead.
After Santa Clara narrowed the gap to 51-50, Simmons missed a jumper in the lane but got his own rebound to set up a basket by McKenzie.
Santa Clara's Steve Kenilvort cut the lead to one again with a hanging jumper, but the scrappy Yoest offset that by drawing an after-the-shot charge on the play. His two free throws with 11 seconds left gave Loyola a 55-52 lead and clinched the game. Santa Clara scored at the buzzer for the final margin.
The victory raised Loyola's record to 11-6 overall and 3-0 in the WCAC, tying the Lions with Pepperdine at the top of the standings. Santa Clara fell to 6-11 and 1-2.
Smith led all scorers with 17 points. McKenzie had 12 points and a game-high 8 rebounds, and Simmons had 10 points. Santa Clara center Dan Weiss had a career-high 15 points before fouling out with 2:51 left. Ken Mulkey added 12 points for the Broncos.
Weiss was instrumental as Santa Clara set a deliberate pace in the early going, scoring 8 of his team's first 15 points. Loyola finally tied it at 21-21 and took a 25-23 halftime lead on Smith's baseline jumper.
Loyola Coach Paul Westhead said he doesn't like the slowdown tactics most opponents are using but added: "We're learning to live with it. I have a tendency to want to change the tempo and go all out. I'm glad I didn't. Smith and McKenzie have to play 40 minutes. We extended our defense as much as we could have."
Westhead singled out Yoest and Simmons for praise. "Yoest did a terrific job. Those two free throws saved the day. He doesn't get enough credit," Westhead said. "If there was a difference tonight, Enoch Simmons was it. He earned his billing tonight. That probably was the one thing the Santa Clara game plan didn't calculate."
The victory broke an eight-game losing streak against Santa Clara. It also was Loyola's first conference victory at Gersten Pavilion in nearly two years.