By Madison Rubino
La Verne Athletics Communication
LA VERNE, Calif. — Hakim Arnold had 27 points, Cruz Mertens converted a huge 4-point play with 1:23 left and the La Verne men's basketball team beat Pomona-Pitzer 89-86 on Tuesday night at Sports Science and Athletic Pavilion.
With the game tied at 80-80, Mertens knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner, was fouled on the shot and sank the free throw to give the Leopards an 84-80 lead.
Pomona-Pitzer's James Kelbert drove in for a layup on the next possession but Arnold responded with a tough jumper from the free throw line with the shot clock winding down to make it a 2-possession game. Kelbert scored again but fouled Arnold on La Verne's next possession and Arnold hit both of his free throws to essentially seal the game. The Sagehens had a couple of chances to make it game but committed back-to-back turnovers.
La Verne improves to 9-4 overall and 3-1 in SCIAC play. Pomona-Pitzer falls to 6-6 and 2-1.
"The thing that put us over the top was the fact that our seniors and veterans stayed poised," La Verne coach Richard Reed said." They didn't panic even though we made a couple of silly plays at the end. Hakim was solid in terms of his floor leadership. Anthony White was much better in the second half although he has to pick up his rebounding."
Arnold was 11-of-14 from the field (78.6 percent) and hit 5 of 6 free throws (83.3 percent). Anthony White pitched in 20 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
La Verne was without their top two big men Jordan Stokes and Evan Gustafson and was outrebounded 47-28. But the Leopards compensated for it by working the ball around to get open shots and making 10 of 25 3-point attempts (40 percent), including 6 of 12 in the second half.
"Give [Pomona-Pitzer] credit for outrebounding us," Reed said. "We wanted limit their offensive rebounds so we can run but we gave up 20. So we got lucky tonight but it was a gutsy performance by our guys playing short-handed."
Mertens made his first start of the season in place of Stokes and made a huge impact. The senior finished with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc and grabbed five rebounds.
"Cruz Mertens is one of the most unselfish players I've ever coached," Reed said of the guard. "I feel like we have seven or eight guys that can start on this team and he said, 'Coach, I'll come off the bench.'
"I feel like he's started for us all year. It just so happens that the rules of basketball say we can only start five. And he did what Cruz Mertens does tonight, which is make shots."
The Leopards started slowly and went down by as many as 11 points but used a 13-0 run late in the first half to get back into the game. La Verne carried the momentum into the second half and took a double-digit lead but the Sagehens made a run of their own to get back in the game.
Pomona-Pitzer's Mitchell Finkel took advantage of the void inside left by Stokes and Gustafson to post 15 points and 13 rebounds. Corbin Koch scored 25 points and Daniel Rosenbaum pitched in 17.
The Leopards return to action on Saturday at Whittier. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.