Senior forward Davon Roberts scored a team-high 19 points, including 13 in the second half, and forced the Mustangs into a crucial turnover with 8.8 seconds remaining to preserve the victory that appeared to be a lock early in the game.
Azusa Pacific roared out to a 17-0 lead 8 minutes into play, converting 7 of its first 11 shots, including a pair of treys, while The Master’s clanked its first 11 field goal attempts and committed 5 turnovers. And even Jeremy Haggerty’s lay-up, TMC’s first field goal 9 minutes and 50 seconds into the game didn’t stop the bleeding. Azusa Pacific still pushed its advantage to 19 on a couple of occasions, assuming a 29-10 lead following a Roberts’ lay-up with over 5 minutes left in the half.
“We came out with some intensity and commitment to details tonight,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “We did a good job of reading what they were doing on defense and then making good decisions.”
Yet Azusa Pacific knows all too well that this season no lead in GSAC play is safe. In the past 2 games the Cougars rallied back from 16-point deficits but each time came up short in losses to Fresno Pacific University and Vanguard University. So they turned the tables tonight. Their 19-point leads all but vanquished over the final 25 minutes of play, and when Mustang guard Ryan Zamroz converted a 4-point play with 2:20 to play, The Master’s was within 2 at 62-60.
“We had some serious mental breakdowns in the second half,” added Leslie. “We missed rotations on defense, shot the ball too early on offense, and got out-rebounded on the offensive end. That should never happen with the height advantage we have against a team like The Master’s.”
Indeed, the GSAC’s top rebounding team, Azusa Pacific, managed just a 2-carrom advantage, 38 to 36, over the middle-of-the-pack Mustangs, who out-rebounded the Cougars’ 12 to 11 on the offensive end despite having no player over 6-foot-4 to go up against Azusa Pacific’s frontline of 6-foot-10, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5.
A David Burgess turn-around jumper off a nice Roberts’ feed put Azusa Pacific back up by 4 at 64-60 and the Cougars’ made just enough free throws, including one by Roberts with 19 seconds left to keep The Master’s at bay.
Still, with the score 66-64, the Mustangs had a chance to either take the lead or at least even the game, but Roberts cut off a Mustang break in the key which in turn forced Haggerty to fumble the ball out of bounds on what proved to be TMC’s final legitimate possession of the game.
“They can’t all be pretty,” said a relieved Leslie. “I hope the guys learned how to win ugly tonight, because that’s what we did.”
For the third straight game Roberts led Azusa Pacific in scoring and continues his emergence as one of the top players in the GSAC. Over the past 8 games he is averaging 17.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists, and tonight against The Master’s there were times he seemed invincible, scoring at will when he got the ball on the block.
“I just knew tonight that if I got the ball with one-on-one on me, I was going to score,” said Roberts.
Senior forward Todd Martin added 11 points and 6 rebounds, while Burgess finished with 8 points and game-high 10 rebounds.
Eric Durso led The Master’s with a game-high 21 points, including 14 in the first half to get the Mustangs back into the game. Zamroz, who came into the game second in the GSAC in scoring at 19.4 points a game, was held to just 12 points on 3-for-15 shooting.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 11-7 overall, 4-4 in the GSAC. The Master’s falls to 10-8 overall, 4-4 in the GSAC.