Oliver, who came into the game averaging just 6 points a contest, scored 16 points in the final 10 minutes of play, including 10 of the Cougars’ 11 points in overtime. His 2 free throws with 19 seconds left gave Azusa Pacific a 76-74 lead. Then with the Cougars clinging to that 2 point advantage, Oliver came up with a key steal with 5 seconds left as the Coyotes went for a game-tying shot.
“Matt was clutch tonight,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie, “he played like a senior. He kept his poise against incredible defensive pressure and delivered some big time plays in crucial situations.”
An intense game throughout the night, the contest featured 6 lead changes and 10 ties, and no team led by more than 8 points, which Cal State San Bernardino managed late in the first half and rode into halftime for a 31-26 advantage.
The Cougars fashioned a 17-9 run over both halves to catch Cal State at 40-40 with just over 14 minutes left in regulation, using a pair of David Stafford free throws for the equalizers. However, the Cougars didn’t snag the lead for another 5 minutes until Danielian drained a jumper that put them up 49-47.
“Mike is learning how to work hard away from the ball,” said Leslie, “and he did that pretty well in the second half tonight. As a result he got some open looks and knocked them down. If he continues to improve in his away-from-the-ball effort, he’s going to be a force down the line.”
San Bernardino though didn’t go away, and behind Lance Ortiz, who sparked a mini-run with a trey – all part of his a game-high 22 points, the Coyotes went back up 56-52.
Back-up freshman point guard Ashton Roberts, who was supposed to redshirt the season until being forced into action 2 games ago because of injuries to other Cougars, came up with the biggest steal of his very brief collegiate career and broke away for an easy lay-up that got the Cougars back to within a point at 56-55 with just over 5 minutes to play.
Oliver tied the game on a free throw and then put the Cougars up by 4 at 60-56 with his only trey of the night. When Oliver converted another 2 free throws with a minute remaining, Azusa Pacific appeared to be in good shape with a 67-64 lead. However, Ortiz nailed another 3-pointer, his fourth of the night, with 33 seconds left in regulation to postpone the Cougars’ celebration and force overtime.
“I reminded the guys heading into overtime about how much fun they were having,” said Leslie. “When you play hard and play together it’s, fun and they just needed to keep doing what they were doing.”
Oliver scored the first bucket of overtime to give Azusa Pacific a short-lived lead. Ortiz put the Coyotes back up by 3 at 74-41 with a pair of free throws with 2 minutes left in OT. Oliver, who was already in a take-over mode, put the pedal to the mettle, scoring 7 of the game’s next 9 points to clinch the win.
Azusa Pacific, which has struggled at the free throw line thus far in the season, made a living at the line tonight, converting 23-of-34, including 21 after halftime. And of their 11 misses at the charity stripe, the Cougars retained possession on 5 of them – all in the final 13 minutes of play.
For the fourth time in the past 5 games, the Cougars committed over 20 turnovers, – 22 to be exact, but Leslie wasn’t frustrated. Rather he was pleased.
“San Bernardino’s defense is nonstop pressure,” said Leslie. “Whether they make or miss shots, they press full court all the time, and as a team, we did a pretty good job keeping our poise. We felt their pressure, but did not panic at any time. When we got down, we fought back into the game.”
Indeed, that’s something to hang a hat on for a team that hadn’t played in 2 weeks and its last game memory was another 20-turnover effort that resulted in a 25-point loss.
Todd Martin scored 12 points, 10 of which came in the first 7 minutes of the game.
“Todd making shots early in the game really settled us tonight,” said Leslie. “He got us going and only foul trouble could stop him tonight.”
Junior center David Burgess had just 5 points but he collected a season-high 14 rebounds.
“David is still a work progress,” said Leslie. “He has a lot to learn but he is going to get there. If he continues to work hard, he is going to be a very good player.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 6-4. Cal State San Bernardino suffers its first loss in 8 game this season and only its ninth loss at home since 1999.