SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Josh Sanderson scored a career-high 27 points and buried a pair of critical 3-pointers in the final 5 minutes to lead the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Point Loma Nazarene University to an 80-77 victory over Azusa Pacific, Saturday evening at Golden Gym.
Azusa Pacific, which trailed the majority of the game, rallied from 11 down in the final 16 minutes of play to take the lead at 69-68 on a Mike Danielian jumper. Sanderson calmed the storm for the moment with a 3-pointer with 4:50 reaming. However, the Cougars were in the midst of a 24-12 run and reassumed another 1-point lead with just over 2 minutes to play. Sanderson came to the rescue again with another long bomb, all part of a personal 5-for-7 clip at the arc. He then iced the game with a jumper to give the Sea Lions a 78-75 advantage with 27 seconds left.
“We had Point Loma on the ropes,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “We had them dead in the water and scared to death – except Sanderson. I tip my hat off to Josh for what he did. He played great.”
Sanderson teamed with reserve Noble’D Shelton to jettison the Sea Lions in the opening half of play. Point Loma was simply on fire, making 17 of its first 22 shots including 8-of-10 from the 3-point arc. Azusa Pacific, which came into the game having played good defense over the past 2 weeks, could not douse a Point Loma barrage that gave the Sea Lions a 49-42 halftime lead.
“They made 8 threes in the first half and 5 of them were with our hand in their face,” Leslie added. “Shelton was 4-for-4 from 3 and none of his shots were easy, and we were basically touching Sanderson’s face on 2 that he made.”
Behind Danielian’s team-high 17 points, including 10 in the second half, Azusa Pacific rallied back from a 57-46 hole with 16 minutes left in the game. Danielian ignited a 12-4 run with 1 of his 3 treys and in a matter of 5 minutes Azusa Pacific was back in the game at 61-58. A 10-2 Cougar run capped by a Danielian jumper gave Azusa Pacific its first lead since a 22-20 margin midway through the first half. That’s when Sanderson followed with the first of his 2 clutch 3-pointers. Another Danielian trey put the Cougars back up at 75-74 with 92 seconds left in the game. But Chris Carlson converted a lay-up to give the Sea Lions the lead again, and after Davon Roberts missed a shot, Sanderson buried another jumper to give PLNU a 3-point lead with 27 seconds left.
Roberts converted a jumper with 12 seconds remaining to get the Cougars back to a point, but Point Loma’s Nick Corso made 2 free throws with 7 seconds for the final margin as Azusa Pacific was unable to get off a potential game-tying shot.
“This was a great game,” said Leslie. “The result hurts, but I’m really proud of how we played, particularly against a team that is as good as Point Loma. I think we saw what this team is going to be the rest of the year.”
Roberts finished with 16 points and a game-high 5 assists. Kimarley Williams added 11 points and was as key in the Cougar’s second-half comeback as Danielian, producing 2 key steals down tht stretch while also converting a pair of crucial free throws.
With the setback Azusa Pacific falls to 13-8 overall, 6-5 in the GSAC, and in the process endures a season-sweep at the hand of Point Loma for the first time since 1985. The Sea Lions improve to 17-4 overall, 8-3 in the GSAC.