AZUSA, Calif. – Early foul trouble and an inability to make critical free throws frustrated the NAIA’s No. 16-ranked Azusa Pacific into a 90-83 loss to unranked Concordia University, Friday evening in the Felix Event Center.
An efficient set of Eagles, who lead the GSAC in scoring offense, torched the nets for a season-best .591 (26-for-44) shooting clip, which included a dozen bombs from the 3-point line. Senior guard Kinglsey Costain paced the attack with an impressive 7-for-7 effort from the floor, including 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. He finished with a game-high 23 points.
However, Azusa Pacific was in trouble long before Costain and the Eagles got into the rhythm of their shooting stroke. The Cougars were in an uphill battle barely 3 minutes into the game when sophomore point guard Mike Caffese, the catalyst of the Cougar offense and defense, was whistled for his second foul on a defensive bump. Rather than risk a play-stifling third foul, Azusa Pacific coach Justin Leslie opted to put Caffese on the bench for the rest of the half. And Concordia took full advantage.
“Losing Mike so early took us out of what wanted to do offensively,” said Leslie. “I thought we had a pretty good game plan heading in, but it just didn’t work as well without Mike in the game. And just as important, Concordia was able to get into what they wanted on offense without Mike pressuring the ball. The game turned at the point of Mike’s second foul.”
Uncontained by slower guards, Costain took control of the game. He hit back-to-back treys as part of a 13-0 run that jettisoned the Eagles into a 43-27 lead. He hit open 3s and 3s with a hand in his face. He nailed them from the top of the key, from the wing, and along the baseline. And when Costain couldn’t get his hands on the ball, Phil Friesen could, and he knocked down another trio of 3-balls on his way to 22 points.
“Concordia hasn’t shot that well all year,” said Leslie, “but now with (All-American Terrance) Worthy back in the line-up, Costain can play the 2-guard, and from that position he can score on anybody.”
With Caffese back on the court to start the second half, Azusa Pacific shaved a 13-point (44-31) halftime deficit down to 5 at 48-43 in just 4 minutes into play. Costain, though, buried 3-pointers on 3 straight Eagle possessions, pushing the Eagle lead back to double digits.
Again Azusa Pacific rallied and pulled back to within 4 points on numerous occasions in the final 10 minutes of play. Yet the Cougars couldn’t get over the hump and 10 missed free throws in the second half, 7 of which came in the final 6 minutes of play, made the pain of the loss all that more excruciating.
“I would not have counted on Concordia scoring 90 points on just 44 shots,” noted Leslie. “They just kept making shots, and a lot of them were unbelievable shots.”
All-GSAC center David Burgess fashioned what is arguably his best game as Cougar, leading each and every rally back into the game with game-high matching 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting to go along with a game-high 12 rebounds. He had 14 points in the second half.
“I wish we could have gotten Dave more than 9 shots, but they weren’t there,” said Leslie. “He is the focus of everyone’s defense. Tonight he kept working, making strong moves and doing everything he could. I was really proud of him.”
As bad as it was to not have Caffese for 17 minutes of the first half, it didn’t help matters either that Dominique Johnson, the GSAC’s second leading scorer at 18.6 a game, was shut out in the first half on an 0-for-5 show from the floor. He countered with 13 second-half points but still was just 3-for-13 on the night.
Freshman Marshall Johnson finished with 12 points, including 2 on a lay-up that pulled Azusa Pacific to within 4 at 78-74 with 1:38 left in the game. Kimarley Williams had 11 points, while Caffese finished with 10 points and 6 assists (all in the second half) to go against just 1 turnover, but it came shortly after Johnson’s lay-up and it thwarted the Cougars’ last opportunity to make the contest a one-possession game for the final minute of play.
“In the second half we did a better job of playing on our terms,” added Leslie. “We forced them into 16 turnovers and out-rebounded them. We shot well and we competed. Bottom line is, they played a great game to beat us. They made shots and hit their free throws.”
With the loss Azusa Pacific falls to 14-7 overall, 7-4 in the GSAC. Concordia, which posts its first win in the Felix Event Center since 2003 and only its second ever, improves to 16-5 overall, 7-4 in the GSAC.
“The most important thing for us is that we’re still improving and still refining our offensive identity,” said Leslie. “Even if we don’t win the regular-season GSAC title, I think we still have a chance to be the best team when the GSAC tournament rolls around.”