AZUSA, Calif. -- Brayden Bell has waited a long time for this night – 3 years to be exact. And the relief is palpable.
The 6-foot-9 former All-Utah prep standout scored a career-high 20 points on the strength of 4 3-pointers, and the Cougar defense induced a hefty 23 turnovers as the NAIA’s No. 17-ranked Azusa Pacific cruised to a 93-52 nonconference victory over Grand Canyon University in the Cougars’ 2008-09 home opener.
In one night as a Cougar, Bell nearly matched his entire offensive output of 22 points in 14 games and 2 seasons of NCAA Division I play at Ohio State and Utah State. He scored 10 points in each half tonight and drained 8-of-12 shots. His lay-up followed by a trey capped a 9-0 Cougar run to start the game and Azusa Pacific never looked back, sprinting to a 47-24 lead at halftime.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this night,” said Bell as he reflected on his first start as a Cougar which also included 8 rebounds, a pair of assists and a blocked shot. “It was good to start tonight and take advantage of it.”
Bell canned a pair of 3-pointers early in the second half, the second giving the Cougars a 61-27 advantage with 16 minutes left in the game.
“I’ve had a lot of time off in recent years, so I’ve just been trying to work myself back into shape and take it day by day,” added Bell. “Our offense is set up to where you can move around and have freedom to do what you feel is right. I tried to take advantage of it tonight, but I’m still learning.”
Fellow newcomer Dominique Johnson added 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He tallied 13 first half points and spurred a 24-9 run midway through the first half that blew the game open.
The Cougar defense was impressive from the opening tip, holding the Antelopes without a field goal for 4-and-a-half minutes. Grand Canyon committed 14 first-half turnovers against the Cougars’ pressure defense and missed 31 of its first 39 shots.
“We were a little more ready to play tonight,” said Cougar head coach Justin Leslie. “As a group, I don’t think we were quite prepared to step on the court against teams as good as Westminster and Cal State San Bernardino. Tonight, we were the ones being the aggressors, creating our own opportunities.”
Bell teamed with fellow big man, 6-foot-10 senior David Burgess to dominate the glass as Azusa Pacific out-rebounded Grand Canyon, 48-37. Burgess registered a game-high 10 rebounds, including 3 of the Cougars’ 17 offensive caroms that led to 19 second-chance points.
The Cougars closed the game with an 18-3 run to settle for the 41-point victory, their largest margin of victory ever over an NCAA Division II team. Freshman Marshall Johnson added 9 points, and sophomore Ashton Roberts finished with 8 points, including 7 in the game’s closing run.
Sophomore point guard Mike Caffese put together an all-around game that included game-highs of 6 assists and 4 steals, all part of a 13-steal performance by the Cougars.
With the victory Azusa Pacific squares it record at 2-2, while Grand Canyon falls to 0-2. The Cougars return to the court Thursday (Nov. 20) to host NAIA traditional power Trevecca Nazarene University from Nashville, Tenn., in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Felix Event Center.