TURLOCK, Calif. – Western New Mexico University exploded for a 21-4 run over a 5-minute span to completely erase a 13-point deficit and climax a 78-74 victory over Azusa Pacific University in the first game of the County Bank Classic hosted by Cal State Stanislaus.
Trey Clarkson scored 14 of his 22 points during the Mustang’s game-changing run, and J.J. Galberth added a game-high 24 points, including 2 that capped the run in which Western New Mexico rallied from a 51-38 hole to assume a 59-55 advantage with 8:41 left in the game.
Clarkson was red-hot in the second half, scoring 19 points on the strength of 5-for-6 shooting from the arc. At one point he scored 8 straight points in just 2 minutes, burying back-to-back treys that pulled the Mustangs to within 4 at 53-49. He gave WMNU its first lead of the game, one that it would not lose the rest of the way, with another trey that put the Mustangs up 57-55 with 9 minutes remaining.
The Cougars stayed within striking distance down the stretch, trailing by just 2 on a number of occasions, but they could never get the necessary stop and the Mustangs made 11-of-12 free throws in the final 77 seconds to keep Azusa Pacific at bay.
Azusa Pacific was in complete control for the first 27 minutes of the game. The Cougars scored 7 of the game’s first 9 points and made 19 of their first 36 shots (.528) which included 5 3-pointers. They led 41-30 at halftime, endured a Mustang counter-attack early in the second half, and were still up by 13 with 14 minutes left in the game following a thunderous dunk by Chidi Ajufo. That’s when Clarkson took over.
The Cougar bench out-scored Western New Mexico’s reserves, 46-12. Freshman Caleb Burgess, who scored a career-high 12 points off the bench, and Ajufo, who added 11, paced Azusa Pacific. Matt Oliver chipped in with 10. Azusa Pacific dominated the boards, out-rebounding Western New Mexico, 38-28, but for the second straight game the Cougars struggled from the line, converting just 8-of-16.
With the victory, Western New Mexico improves to 1-1 on the season while Azusa Pacific falls to 3-3. The Cougars close out its play in the classic when they take on Dominican University, Saturday (Nov. 24) at 5:30 p.m. The Penguins lost to tournament host Cal State Stanislaus, 81-61, in the other first-round game.