AZUSA, Calif. – Behind dominating moments of play first from Caleb Burgess and then Dominique Johnson Azusa Pacific fashioned a 26-5 run that proved to be the difference in the Cougars’ 70-50 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Point Loma Nazarene University Saturday evening before a crowd of 873 in the Felix Event Center.
Both Burgess and Johnson each scored 12 consecutive points for the Cougars, one at the end of the first half and the other at the start of second half, to completely change the complexion of what had been a tight game through the first 14 minutes of play.
Burgess single-handedly blew the game open, canning 4 consecutive 3-pointers from a variety of locations around the arc, and when Mike Caffese made an acrobatic lay-up to cap a 14-0 Cougar run, Azusa Pacific found itself up 41-28 at halftime after trailing 28-27 with 5:30 left in the first half.
“Caleb is probably the best open-look shooter we have and he was ready,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “He’s been practicing them, and he knocked them down tonight. I was really proud of him.”
The game featured 6 lead changes and 4 ties before Burgess began his personal 3-point assault. And after the break, he seemingly passed the baton to Johnson, who scored the first 7 points of the second half to complete an 8-minute stretch of 21 consecutive Cougar points that moved across both halves. Yet, Johnson wasn’t done. He drained another trey, this third of the evening, and buried a jumper that capped Azusa Pacific’s onslaught and produced a 53-33 Cougar lead less than 4 minutes into the second half.
“I told the guys at halftime that we had to make a statement at the start of the second half,” said Leslie. “So we really dialed in defensively and that’s when we imposed what the rest of the game was going to be. Offensively, we got the ball inside, and Dominique made some really great shots.”
Senior David Burgess entered the Felix Event Center having battled the flu all day, and though he gave it a valiant effort, the All-GSAC center went down for the count 6 minutes into the game and never returned. In his stead junior Brayden Bell came off the bench to play the game of his collegiate life, tallying career-highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds, registering the second double-double of his career. He scored 14 of the Cougars’ final 17 points of the game, keeping the Sea Lions at bay with an assortment of baskets that included 3-pointers, lay-ups and thundering dunks.
“Brayden’s play was fantastic tonight,” said Leslie. “I told him to just be a big man tonight. Yes, he made 2 threes, but more important where the lay-ups and offensive rebounds. We had to have a presence in the inside, and he didn’t settle for what the defense allowed. He fought.”
Led by Kimarley Williams’ game-high 12 rebounds (he’s averaging over 8 rebounds a game the past 6 contests), Azusa Pacific out-rebounded Point Loma Nazarene, 43-34, and collected 13 on the offensive end that translated into 14 second-chance points.
Neither team shot particularly well, and Azusa Pacific was woeful at the line, missing 9-of-14 free throws. Fortunately, the Cougars didn’t need those extra points after holding Point Loma Nazarene to a season-low 50 points.
“Our defense was good, but in truth they had a lot of good looks at the basket and it just one of those nights where their shots weren’t falling,” added Leslie, who picked up his first-ever win over Point Loma. “We were lucky to have some separation at halftime.”
Johnson finished with 19 points and 4 assists, while Burgess checked in with a career-high 17 points on the strength of 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point territory.
“In a long season you have injuries and illness and guys have to step up,” said Leslie. “Tonight it was Brayden and Caleb. Two weeks ago, they weren’t even getting off the bench. However, they were prepared for this game and fired up.”
Caffese turned in another solid effort at the point, recording 8 points (3-for-4 shooting), a game-high 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. He also committed just 1 turnover, his only miscue in the past 60 minutes of play.
Point Loma Nazarene was paced Noble’D Shelton’s 16 points.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 10-5 overall, 3-2 in the GSAC, while Point Loma Nazarene falls to 10-6 overall, 3-3.