RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Silent most of the night because of foul trouble and the crosshairs of an opposing defense, senior forward Davon Roberts broke through in the clutch in resounding fashion by nailing a 9-foot floating jumper with 27 seconds left to lift Azusa Pacific to a 73-72 upset of the NAIA’s No. 14-ranked California Baptist University Saturday evening in Van Dyne Gym.
Roberts, who came into the game as Azusa Pacific’s leading scorer at 15.1 points a contest and who had been playing All-American-like basketball the past month, was held to just 7 points on 3-for-10 shooting through the first 36 minutes of play. However, he emerged just in time for the Cougars. First he hit a key jumper in the key to pull the Cougars to within a point at 68-67 with 3:43 left in the game. Then out of a timeout following a Kimarley Williams steal of sideline inbounds pass with 36 seconds left, Roberts dropped a high-arching jumper in the key to put the Cougars up for good.
“During the timeout I had 3 plays in mind, and they were all for Davon,” said Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “Our plan was to get him the ball the cleanest way possible, and that was to inbound it to him and let him go one-on-one. I like Davon one-on-one against anyone in this league, but they had a freshman on him which made it all the better.”
Cal Baptist still had 2 chances to win the game, but Carl Ross missed a fiercely contested lay-up with 6.1 seconds left, and Mark Roussin’s running jumper off a length-of-the-court dribble-drive came up short as the final buzzer sounded.
“I’m very proud of our effort tonight,” added Leslie. “We had great energy. We were diving after loose balls, playing solid defense, and the bench was super.”
Indeed the Cougar reserves were just as significant as Roberts’ game-winning shot, out-scoring Cal Baptist reserves, 31-19. Sophomore guard Mike Danielian came off the bench to pour in a team-high 20 points on the strength of 5 3-pointers. After Azusa Pacific fell behind 18-6 less than 6 minutes into the game, Danielian keyed a 14-0 Cougar run, starting the comeback with a long trey and then scoring 8 points in the run that eventually gave Azusa Pacific its first lead at 20-18 following a David Burgess soft jump hook in the key with 9:15 left in the first half.
From there on the 2 teams exchanged leads 10 more times and managed to tie the game another 13 times. After Azusa Pacific assumed a 35-33 halftime lead, neither team managed more than a 4-point advantage.
The second of 2 Davey Hopkins’ treys in the final 5 minutes gave Cal Baptist a 66-62 lead. However Cougar freshman Caleb Burgess answered with his own trey from the corner to keep the Cougars within 1. Burgess then canned another long jumper just inside the arc to close-out his 7-point second half and give the Cougars a 69-68 lead with 2 minutes remaining.
“There is no question that Caleb can shoot,” said Leslie. “Even though he is just a freshman, he did not flinch and took those looks and knocked down 2 big shots.”
Following the Burgess bucket, Cal Baptist answered with a Rousin jumper to retake the lead at 70-69, and when Hopkins picked Cougar Mike Caffese at the top of the key, Lancer Marquis Kennedy followed with a break-away lay-up to put CBU up 72-69 with 1:17 left.
Danielian followed by rebounding his own missed 3-pointer and then draining a jumper to get the Cougars to within a point with 50 seconds reamining. After the Cougars fouled twice in attempt to get into a bonus situation, Williams stole the inbounds pass and called timeout to set up Roberts’ game-winning basket.
“I think this is a coming of age for this team,” said Leslie of his third win over a nationally-ranked team this season. “It’s the first time we’ve come from behind to win a conference game this season. We still have 11 more games and so much in front of us. We can still have a great season, we just have to continue to toughen up, pull through and play hard.”
Roberts finished with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season. David Burgess finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Caffese enjoyed his best game as Cougar with 9 points, 6 assists and 3 steals, 2 of which came during the Cougars’ 14-0 run.
Roussin led all players with 21 points while Hopkins and Ross chipped in with 10 apiece to aid California Baptist.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 12-7 overall, 5-4 in the GSAC. Cal Baptist, which falls out of a tie for first-place in the GSAC, suffers its first loss at home this season and only its second in the past 17 home contests. The Lancers are now 15-2 overall, 7-2 in the GSAC.