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.