AZUSA, Calif. – Like an old Fotomat, Azusa Pacific turned a negative into a positive in just 24 hours.
Smarting from a less-than-impressive effort Friday night against Bethany, the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Cougars turned around put together a smart effort to down Occidental College, 79-57, Saturday evening in Azusa Pacific’s final tune-up before its conference opening game Tuesday (Nov. 20) against Point Loma Nazarene University.
Junior guard Mike Danielian teamed with senior forward Davon Roberts to give the Azusa Pacific a dominating inside-out presence that eventually wilted a high-energy set of Tigers. The duo combined for 44 of the Cougars’ 79 points on 16-for-24 shooting and spurred a 16-2 run late in the first half that changed the complexion of the contest.
With the Cougars down 20-18 and less than 7 minutes left in the half, Roberts hit a short jumper to knot the game, and Danielian followed with 1 of 5 treys on the night to give the Cougars a 23-20 lead that it would not relinquish the rest of the night. What finally jettisoned Azusa Pacific from Oxy was a spectacular baseline-to-baseline sprint by Roberts which began when his shot blocked by Oxy’s Sean Anderson only to see Roberts turnaround and race the full length of the court to throw Connor Whitman’s attempted lay-up hard off the glass and nearly out to half court. The Cougars followed with a 12-3 run that gave them a comfortable 38-25 halftime lead.
“On that one play, Davon set the defensive tone the rest of the night,” said Azusa Pacific coach Justin Leslie. “We responded to his single effort with a renewed sense of energy.”
The numbers support Leslie’s claim. Oxy missed 26 of its final 36 shots following the Roberts’ block while the Cougars made 20 of their next 32 shots to run away for the victory.
“Davon can be the glue to this team,” Leslie added. “He displayed great discipline on offense, making difficult plays look easy. He was just great.”
Roberts’ effort was so complete that he registered 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks – all season highs for the former Glendora High standout.
Meanwhile Danielian was on fire from the perimeter. In contrast to his ice-cold performance Friday night in which he missed 8-of-9 shots including all 6 from the arc, Danielian buried 8-of-11 against Occidental which included a 5-for-6 clip from 3-point territory. He finished with a season-high 27 points in 29 minutes of action.
“Tonight Mike understood better when to go and when not,” said Leslie. “He pushed the envelope a couple of times with his shot selection but when you’re as hot as he was, you can have some leeway.”
Danielian tallied 16 first-half points, including 11 in the final 6 minutes. And while it was easy to take notice of his offensive prowess, Leslie believed it was Danielian’s defensive effort against Oxy’s leading player Connor Whitman that really determined the tempo of the game. A 47-percent shooter from the arc, Whitman was held to just 5-for-19 shooting on the night and missed 10-of-12 from 3-point territory.
“Mike took on the defensive challenge to take Whitman out of the game,” said Leslie, “and in so doing he got himself more into the game at our offensive end.”
Junior Kimarley Williams tallied 8 points off the bench to go along with a game-high 5 steals, inducing more than half of the Tigers’ 9 turnovers against their highly efficient half-court offensive attack.
Occidental was paced by Whitman’s 16 points. Senior forward Chris Hunt chipped in with 13 points and a game-high 9 rebounds.
Azusa Pacific now turns its attention to Golden State Athletic Conference play which begins with 3 games before the Christmas break including the opener against the No. 22-ranked Point Loma Nazarene at home Tuesday night.
“Ready or not here it comes,” said Leslie. “We should not be playing conference games this early, but the good thing about this one is that Point Loma has a lot of new people like we do and we’re all trying to learn as quickly as we can.”
Azusa Pacific’s GSAC opener is a doubleheader with the Sea Lions. The women’s game tips off at 5:30 p.m. followed by the men’s game at 7:30.