AZUSA, Calif. – James Lewis looked every bit the GSAC Player of the Year candidate that he is. However, on this night, he wasn’t even the best player on his team.
Junior guard Adam Kado came off the bench to score a career-high 26 points, burying 6-of-7 shots from beyond the 3-point line, to lead the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Fresno Pacific University to a 98-91 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Azusa Pacific Tuesday evening in the Felix Event Center.
Kado, who hadn’t scored a combined 26 points in the 5 previous Sunbirds games, came into tonight’s contest averaging just over 5 points a game this season. However, he knocked down a triple midway through the first half to put the Sunbirds up 21-17, and then sliced through the Cougar defense to drop in a lay-up that spurred an 18-2 run that gave Fresno Pacific a 39-23 lead.
And that was only the beginning.
Kado scored 5 more points in the half to put his Sunbirds up by a surprising 49-32 cushion at halftime and then poured in 16 second-half points, raining 3s and long jumpers from all over the court. None was more important than his baseline 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the game that gave FPU some breathing room at 87-80 after Azusa Pacific had wiped out nearly everything of a 23-point deficit to rally back to within a single point.
“I hesitate to call anyone a role player, because I know Kado is a good player, but he hasn’t had any success scoring this year,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “Historically, he’s a good scorer, and we made 2 clueless defensive mistakes early on, and that’s all it took to get him rolling.”
The GSAC’s second-best shooting team, Fresno Pacific torched the nets at .574 (31-for-54) clip, the Sunbirds’ second-best shooting performance of the season. At one point they had made 10-fo-16 from 3-point land. Kado knocked down his first 3 treys of the second half, and when his personal scoring binge subsided, Fresno Pacific was resting quite comfortably in a 61-38 advantage.
However, there were still 17 minutes left in the game, and the dormant Cougars awoke behind the perimeter shooting of Dominique Johnson and inside physical presence of David Burgess. Johnson, who with his game-high 34 points registered the most points by a Cougar in 7 years, engineered a 25-4 Cougar run over a 6-minute stretch that was capped by his 3-pointer to cut the Fresno Pacific lead to 69-67 with 10 minutes left in the game. In the process, Azusa Pacific made 9 straight shots, including 7 3-pointers.
“To be honest, that’s how we should have played from the start,” said Leslie. “Fresno came out and executed a great game plan and we weren’t prepared to respond off the start.
“They’ll give you open shots if you just keep your poise. Sure enough, it started to happen. I just can’t believe we weren’t able to do that from the start.”
In fact, Azusa Pacific got even closer, pulling to within a point at 79-78 following a Caleb Burgess breakaway lay-up with 4 minutes to play.
Lewis, though, ignited a 10-2 Sunbird run in the midst of which Kado made that critical 3-pointer, and the Sunbirds breathed a sigh of relief at 89-80 following a Jordan Wild put back following a Kado miss at the free throw.
“We’re still within 4 with just over 2 minutes to go, but we made 3 huge mistakes in what seemed like a 7-second span, and one of those was not getting the rebound off the missed free throw,” added Leslie.
Lewis finished with 22 points, canning 11-of-13 free throws in the process. Todd Brown added 19 points, and together the Kado-Lewis-Brown triumvirate tallied 67 of the Sunbirds’ 98 points.
David Burgess, who missed all but 6 minutes of Saturday’s game vs. Point Loma Nazarene University with the flu, bounced back with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting. In his first collegiate start, freshman Marshall Johnson dropped in 17 points, while Caleb Burgess added 13 off the bench.
“Twenty-three points are ton and more than we were able to overcome,” said Leslie. “At that point, we had to do every last thing perfect, but Fresno is the real deal. They have a commanding lead in the GSAC.”
With the win, its first in Azusa since 1992, Fresno Pacific has won 10 straight and improves to 13-3 overall, 6-0 in the GSAC and has a 2-game lead over second-place Westmont College. Azusa Pacific falls to 10-6 overall, 3-3 in the GSAC.