SAN DIEGO, Calif. – It’s no secret that as a team Azusa Pacific struggles at the free throw line. So it wasn’t newsworthy when the Cougars missed more free throws than field goal attempts in the second half of Saturday’s game at Point Loma Nazarene.
Until you realize the Cougars missed just 5 free throws.
Azusa Pacific scored a season-high 61 points after halftime by making 22-of-26 shots to rally for a crucial 90-83 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Point Loma Nazarene in Golden Gymnasium.
Dominique Johnson , Marshall Johnson (no relation) and David Burgess combined for 42 of the Cougars’ 61 points to lead Azusa Pacific back from a 6-point halftime deficit and pick up a key victory that gives Azusa Pacific sole possession of third place in the GSAC.
“We had to have this win,” said second-year Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “This is a difficult team to beat at home, and to pick up a win like this sets us in the right direction heading into the final 5 games of the regular season. We want to finish strong heading into the conference tournament.”
The Cougars gave no indication of a forthcoming hot-hand after missing 15 of their first 25 shots to open the game, allowing Point Loma to move out to a 35-29 halftime lead. However, Azusa Pacific coach Justin Leslie tweaked the Cougar scheme at halftime which resulted in a relentless attack of the basket, producing 14 layups or dunks. Azusa Pacific made its final 15 shots of the game, which included among them a trio of conventional 3-point plays.
“Point Loma really pressures hard on the perimeter,” said Leslie, “and that in itself can leave the paint open if you attack the basket. In the second half, we had to put our nose down and make sure it happened. It resulted in a lot of easy baskets.”
Dominique Johnson scored 16 of his team-high 21 points after the break, while Marshall Johnson tallied all 15 of his points in the second half. Marshall scored 7 consecutive points, capped by a 3-pointer, to highlight a 14-7 Cougar start to the second half and give Azusa Pacific a 43-42 lead.
“Marshall had about as bad of a first half as a player can have,” added Leslie, “but the second half he made his presence known and had an impact on the game. It was good for him. He gave us some toughness in the second half that we were lacking in the first half.”
The 2 teams traded leads 5 more times until Azusa Pacific fashioned a 10-1 run to assume the lead for good at 59-54 following another Marshall lay-up midway through the half. Though the Sea Lions rallied back to within a single possession on a couple of occasions, a Mike Caffese lay-up and a Dominique Johnson jumper kept Point Loma at bay. In fact, Johnson scored 14 points in the final 8 minutes of play to frustrate the Sea Lion defense.
“Dominique made big shot after big shot late in the game,” said Leslie. “This was one of his best games for us. He made sure we were going to win.”
The Sea Lions did not help their cause either. Though they committed just 11 turnovers, 3 of them came in a 2-minute stretch that allowed Azusa Pacific to turn a 68-67 advantage into an insurmountable 77-71 lead following a Burgess dunk with 3:17 left in the game. The Cougars then made 7-of-10 free throws down the stretch to lead by as much as 10 points before a Sea Lion 3-pointer at the final buzzer provided the final margin of victory.
Burgess finished with 13 points but was able to snag just 3 rebounds, a season-low for the 6-foot-10 senior center. Kimarley Williams picked up the slack with a team-high 8 rebounds to go along with 7 points.
Caffese finished with 9 points on the strength of 3-for-3 shooting from the floor to go along with a team-high 7 assists.
The victory is Azusa Pacific’s 14th in its past 16 visits to Golden Gymnasium and combined with last month’s 20-point victory over Point Loma in Azusa, it avenges last year’s season sweep by the Sea Lions, their only sweep over the Cougars in 25 years.
With the victory over Point Loma Nazarene combined with Biola’s at home to San Diego Christian, Azusa Pacific now has sole possession of third place in the GSAC, moving to 17-8 overall, 10-5 in conference play. Point Loma falls to 14-12 overall, 7-9 in the GSAC.