David Burgess recorded his second double-double of the season with game-highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds and Brayden Bell added 15 points and 8 rebounds to lead the NAIA’s No. 17-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 79-70 victory over the University of La Verne Tuesday evening in the Felix Event Center.
Azusa Pacific, which hasn’t lost to an NCAA Division III team in 18 years, played like a team that expected to roll and yet didn’t come close. La Verne, on the other hand, gave an admirable attempt to become the first NCAA Division III team to beat the Cougars since 1991. In the end, the Cougars held on for its fourth victory in 6 tries this season, but this game certainly wasn’t a hat-hanger.
“It was just a gross game,” said Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “La Verne wanted it more than we did. They came in and competed all the way to the end.”
Azusa Pacific, however, needed just 8 minutes of good play early in the second-half to collect this win, fashioning a 23-4 run that resulted in a 62-43 lead that allowed the Cougars to literally coast the rest of the way, in a manner similar to how they played the first half.
After Tyler Hoyt made a game-opening lay-up to give La Verne a quick 2-0 lead, the Cougars scored the next 6 points and never trailed again. Yet, they never put away the Leopards and thus led just 36-32 at halftime. Azusa Pacific missed 20 first-half shots, more than half of its free throws, and turned the ball over 9 times. Despite having the 6-foot-10 Burgess and the 6-foot-9 Bell, the Cougars out-rebounded La Verne, which featured no player over 6-foot-4, by just 1 carom, 22-21, in the first 20 minutes of play.
“Our guys didn’t respect the opportunity they had tonight,” added Leslie. “They just didn’t show up. It was just a matter of work ethic.”
For the game, Azusa Pacific shot at a paltry .389 (28-for-72) clip from the floor and was an embarrassing 16-for-34 (.471) at the free throw line.
“We dominated the game, but unfortunately we dominated in a negative way,” Leslie went on to say. “We gave them good shots through our defensive mistakes, or by unforced turnovers, or by just missing open shots.”
Dominique Johnson scored 8 of his 12 points in the second half during the Cougars’ min-explosion, and reserve Marshall Johnson chipped in with 10 points and 5 rebounds.
Azusa Pacific did not make a field goal during the final 5 minutes of the game, and La Verne closed out with a 14-0 run, with the freshman Hoyt scoring 5 of his team-high 16 points in the waning moments.
Azusa Pacific has now won 39 straight over DIII teams and improves to 4-2 on the season while La Verne falls to 1-4.