Bo Kimble was still out of uniform, and officially Loyola Marymount still has a two-game losing streak going into next Saturday's showdown at Oklahoma.
But the smiles were back Saturday night at Gersten Pavilion after Loyola defeated Athletes in Action, 146-137, in an exhibition game before a crowd of 1,250.
The Lions hit 15 3-pointers and shot 55% for the game to overcome deficits of as much as 9 points in the second half. Guard Jeff Fryer led the way with 40 points including 7 3-pointers. Hank Gathers had 33 points and 17 rebounds, Enoch Simmons got 28 points and 11 assists and Per Stumer chipped in 17 points and 12 rebounds.
"I told our guys we were more interested in playing well than winning," said Coach Paul Westhead. "We wanted to do both, but I didn't want us to play sloppy. Two minutes into the game, when I saw how good (AIA) was, I told the guys, 'You better have your legs on tonight.' We're exhausted, but it's a good exhaustion."
With the high-scoring Kimble still nursing a sore knee, Westhead experimented with the lineup, starting 6-3 Tom Peabody at forward and substituting freshman John O'Connell. Both played well. O'Connell played the second half with four stitches in his lip.
"It was good to see us struggle and overcome that," Westhead said.
It was a shootout from the start, with Loyola grabbing an early 23-16 lead, only to see AIA pull ahead behind former Loyola star Forrest McKenzie, who had 21 first-half points on the way to 28, and guard Anthony Watson, who also had 21 in the half. He finished with 32.
AIA built leads that reached 61-48 before Loyola stormed back in the final minute before intermission, hitting two straight 3-pointers in a matter of seconds to cut the lead to 76-73. AIA held a 78-76 advantage at the half.
The Lions hit 10 of 16 3-pointers in the half to stay in the game, with Fryer hitting 3 on the way to 19 halftime points, while Stumer made 4 of 5 to finish the half with 14 points.
Loyola caught AIA at 81-all and the game was tied nine times before the visitors again took leads that reached 106-97.
Loyola finally took the lead for good at 135-132 on two straight 3-pointers by Fryer, two three-point plays by Gathers and two driving layups by Simmons.