Azusa Pacific survived the most unique of challenges and held on to beat University of Montana-Western, 90-77, in a neutral-site game played at Rocky Mountain College Saturday afternoon.
Less than 18 hours after playing before 8,200 people in famed Pauley Pavilion against No. 2-ranked UCLA, Azusa Pacific found itself in Billings, Mont., officially opening the 2007-08 season before a sparse crowd against an under-manned Montana-Western. The Cougars walked out of Pauley at 9:30 p.m. Friday night and were up by 5 a.m. to catch a 7:30 flight out of LAX to Billings. They landed at 12:25 p.m. and tipped off against the Bulldogs at 4 p.m.
“We’re a lot more tired than we anticipated,” said a relieved Justin Leslie, who picked up his first collegiate win as a head coach. “I’m delirious. Just getting through this was big thing for me.”
Senior forward Todd Martin scored a career-high 26 points and sophomore guard Mike Danielian added 22 to lead the Cougars through a see-saw affair in which the Cougars built a 17-point first-half lead, then lost it all, and then rallied from 3 down in the second half to build another 17-point advantage with 7 minutes remaining before settling for the final margin of victory.
“We’re as tired as tired can be,” said Leslie. “We got them down 33-17, and we literally ran out of gas. I was subbing through our players as quickly as I could, and that didn’t do it.”
Azusa Pacific led 46-39 at halftime, but behind 5 different Bulldogs who scored in double figures, Montana-Western overtook the Cougars in the second half, assuming a 60-57 lead with just under 14 minutes left in the game. However Martin knocked down a big 3-pointer to pull the Cougars even and reserves David Stafford and Kimarley Williams came off the bench to spark the Cougars back into the lead. Stafford knocked down a pair of treys and Williams hit a pair of key shots, including a 3-pointer. Azusa Pacific went on a 23-3 run in a matter of 6 minutes to race back out to a 80-63 lead to put the game on ice.
“When we were looking good, we were executing on offense,” said Leslie, “but we got away from our team style of play when we were tired. We gave them baskets because we were tired. We were in place a lot of times to make proper plays, but we wouldn’t make it simply because we were too tired to move.”
Considering the situation, the Cougars shot a very fine 52-percent (30-for-58) from the floor, which included an impressive 12-for-23 clip from the 3-point arc, and out-rebounded the Bulldogs, 38-29. Davon Roberts added 7 points and team-high 6 rebounds. Williams finished with 7 points. Azusa Pacific was handcuffed by a hefty 19 turnovers.
“This feels great,” said the 29-year old Leslie. “This game had a little bit of everything and created a whole lot of feelings. There is a lot to improve upon but I’m pleased with how we played considering everything.
Azusa Pacific opens the season 1-0 and collects its seventh straight season-opening victory. The NAIA-affiliated Montana-Western falls to 1-2.