For the second straight game Azusa Pacific went without a point guard in its starting line-up, opting again to go with Stafford and Peter Bond in the backcourt while waiting for the return of injured true points Matt Oliver (knee) and Mike Caffese (hamstring). Last Saturday it was the junior Bond who torched the nets for a career-high 16 points with a quintet of treys. Tonight, Stafford matched the effort and it was his back-to-back 3-balls early in the second half that sent the Cougars on a 20-8 run to blow open the game and give Azusa Pacific an insurmountable 69-49 with 11 minutes left to play.
“The whole team benefits when we start our offense by going inside with the ball and then moving it out, and that’s what happened tonight with David,” said Cougar head coach Justin Leslie. “He’s a good shooter and if we correctly execute our offense, he’ll get his looks with an inside-out attack.”
Indeed forward Davon Roberts, who came in as the Cougars’ leading scorer at nearly 15 points a game, tallied a season-high 6 assists while center David Burgess collected a pair of assists and in Leslie’s estimation could have had several more had other long jumpers fallen.
“Our ‘bigs’ did some of their best passing of the season during tonight’s game,” said Leslie.
Senior Todd Martin led all players with a game-high 18 points, including 12 in the first half when the Cougars scooted out to a 44-35 lead. Yet, Azusa Pacific had trouble shaking the Royals, who came into the game having dropped 5 straight and were without leading scorer Marko Torovic (back). The Cougars let 10- and 7-point first-half leads completely evaporate before a 12-1 run gave them some cushion at the intermission.
“I was disappointed with our effort in the first half,” said Leslie, “it wasn’t where it has been the past couple of games. Our second unit went into the game and did a terrible job of executing on defense. We cleaned it up though in the second half.”
Azusa Pacific ran away from Hope over the final 20 minutes, shooting at a 52-percent clip from the floor while doubling up the Royals on the glass with a 24-12 rebounding edge. Martin completed a solid night of work with 8 rebounds, 4 each on the offensive and defensive end, while reserve Kimarley Williams collected a game-high 9, the third time in the past 7 games he has tallied 9 or more caroms.
“When we play defense and rebound the end result of some pretty good basketball for us all the way around,” said Leslie.
Freshman Caleb Burgess added 11 points, including 5 in his first 20 seconds of action in the first half.
Azusa Pacific, which has now won 6 of its past 8, improves to 9-5 on the season and 2-2 in the GSAC. Hope International, which was paced by Ryan Sewitsky’s 11 points, falls to 1-9 overall, 1-3 in the GSAC.