Guards James Spencer and Jarvis Jackson scored 24 of their combined 37 points in the second half and spearheaded the game’s decisive run, which opened with a Spencer 3-ball to tie the game at 35-35 and ended with a Jackson trey that put MSU up 56-40 with 11:35 left in the game.
Spencer, a Los Angeles native, led Mountain State with a game-high 20 points while Jackson added 17. They scored 11 of MSU’s 14 straight points at the outset of the run.
On the strength of Mike Danielian’s long-distance shooting Azusa Pacific rallied from an early 8-2 deficit to assume a 30-23 lead. The Cougars controlled the glass, committed just 4 first half turnovers, and forced Mountain State to miss 16 of its first 24 shots. However, in a sign of things to come, Mountain State closed the first half with a 9-2 run over the final 3 minutes to send the teams into the locker room tied at 32 at halftime.
Cougar guard Mike Caffese buried a 3-pointer to open the second half, putting Azusa Pacific back up at 35-32. It was the last Azusa Pacific lead of the day.
Mountain State fashioned an onslaught similar to the one that did Azusa Pacific in a year ago today when Oklahoma City University rallied from 16 down with 16 minutes left in the game to beat Azusa Pacific by 16 also in the NAIA quarterfinals.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before,” said Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “These are explosive teams back here in terms of ability to score. They flexed their muscle in the second half, and we had no answer.”
In all, Mountain State out-scored Azusa Pacific, 40-19, in the second half, using a dominating effort on the glass and the quick work of Spencer and Jackson to establish some breathing room. MSU out-rebounded Azusa Pacific by 15 over the final 20 minutes of play.
“We knew we had to control the defensive boards in the second half to limit their opportunities to score,” said Leslie. “They started getting second-chance points and some easy transition looks. Against a team like Mountain State, you’re not going to get up from that.”
Danielian led Azusa Pacific with 13 points, all in the first half. Mountain State did an outstanding job of stopping the Cougar front-line tandem of Davon Roberts and David Burgess, who came in averaging a combined 28 points and 20 rebounds through the first 2 NAIA Tournament games. They were held to just 14 points and 10 rebounds today. Roberts finished 10 points and a team-high 6 rebounds.
“They (Mountain State) were able to apply ball pressure and front the post so well,” said Leslie. “They forced us out of the operation area on the wings. Every year when you lose in Kansas City, you reflect back on the season and lessons learned. It usually comes down to the lesson unlearned that bites you. We never learned how to pass the ball effectively from the wing to the post.”
For the third straight year Azusa Pacific’s season comes to an end in the NAIA “Elite Eight.” The Cougars finish the campaign at 24-11. Mountain State, which won the 2004 NAIA national championship, moves on to the semifinals with a 33-2 record.