In a too-soon-to-be-playing-a-Golden-State-Athletic-Conference-opener, the NAIA’s No. 22-ranked Point Loma Nazarene University held off No. 8 Azusa Pacific down the stretch to post a 69-65 victory.
Guard Josh Sanderson scored a game-high 15 points, which included the go-ahead jumper with 3 minutes left in the game and a pair of game-clinching free throws with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Sea Lions’ to their fourth victory over Azusa Pacific in the past 39 meetings and only their eighth ever in Azusa in the series’ 42-year history.
Over the final 11 minutes of the game, Point Loma Nazarene seemingly had an answer for every Azusa Pacific run, never leading by more than 5 points but never allowing the Cougars to catch them until 3-and-half minutes remained in the game. However, Sanderson and Casey Ortiz, who chipped in with 13 points, accounted for the Sea Lions’ final 6 points as the Cougars could muster only 1 bucket while missing 3 shots and committing 2 key turnovers in the closing minutes of play.
Azusa Pacific never found a rhythm to its game. Constantly harassed by a tireless Sea Lion defensive attack, the Cougars missed 12-of-17 3-pointers, including 8 in a row at one point. When they had a more relaxed opportunity to take leads, the Cougars hiccupped, missing 13 free throws in 27 attempts, including 7 clanks from the charity stripe in the second half.
And as cold as Azusa Pacific was in all of its shooting, Point Loma was as hot. The Sea Lions were 19-of-23 at the line, and led by Benny Koochoie, they drained 6 treys, including a 4-for-10 clip in the second half. Koochoie scored 9 of his 11 points in the second half, and sparked a 10-2 PLNU run with a 3-pointer with 13 minutes left. He later converted a conventional 3-poitn play that gave the Sea Lions a 48-46 lead at the 10:26. Azusa Pacific would never lead again the rest of the way, and when the Cougars pulled to within a point with just under 5 minutes to play, Koochoie hit his second trey of the half to push the Sea Lion advantage back to 4 at 63-59.
Davon Roberts led Azusa Pacific with 12 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. Chidi Ajufo added 10 points off the bench. Sophomore guard Mike Danielian scored 10 points, but he was slapped with a technical foul when he complained about a hard hit that felled him after draining a trey early in the second half to gave the Cougars a short-lived lead that was erased by the technical free throws.
Both teams were without the services of key players. Point Loma lost its leading scorer Curtis Carlson to an injury just 9 minutes into the game, and the Cougars never had starting point guard Christiaan Hammond.
With the win, Point Loma Nazarene moves to 5-1 on the season and 1-0 in the GSAC, while Azusa Pacific falls to 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the GSAC.