AZUSA, Calif. – The NAIA’s No. 21-ranked Azusa Pacific employed pressure defense and an up-tempo attack to fashion a 15-2 run late in the first half and take control of the game on its way to a relatively easy 79-63 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Vanguard University Saturday night in the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars out-scored Vanguard 26-4 off turnovers, forcing the Lions into 18 ball-handling miscues including 5 in a 3-minute stretch that turned the game in Azusa Pacific’s favor. With Vanguard holding to a 25-20 lead, Cougar point guard Mike Caffese jettisoned the Cougars into the lead by snagging 3 of his career-high 7 steals, which eventually helped produce in a 35-27 Azusa Pacific lead. The Cougars continued to ride that wave into a 41-29 halftime cushion.
“The entire game plan was to speed the game up and to do everything we could to get the ball out of (Gregory) Scott’s hands,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “He made some great shots but he had 5 turnovers and couldn’t get them into a rhythm, and he is the engine that pushes that team.”
While Azusa Pacific wreaked havoc on the Lion offense, the Cougars were an efficient machine at its own offensive end, committing a season-low 6 turnovers while draining 9 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, a team single-game high in a month.
Junior Dominique Johnson led a workman-like set of Cougars with 14 points on just 4-for-14 shooting the floor. However, the All-GSAC candidate was 1 of 3 Cougars to make all of his free throws, burying 5-of-5 from the line to lead a Cougar squad that made 16-of-18 overall for a season-high .889 clip at the charity stripe.
Caffese added 11 points and a game-high 6 assists, while Dave Burgess chipped in with 10 points and 7 rebounds. Though he was just 2-for-8 from the floor to finish with 8 points, freshman Marshall Johnson collected a career-high 12 rebounds.
“We got our shots tonight, albeit from different guys, but really in the same spot,” said Leslie. “It was a chance for guys to come off our bench, like Mike Danielian, David Stafford and Caleb Burgess and shake loose tonight. Our depth was a real factor. We were able to force tempo and not get tired.”
Azusa Pacific held Vanguard to just 1 field goal over the final 6 minutes of the first half and then limited the Lions to just 2 field goals in an 8 minutes stretch of the second half to push its lead to as much at 18 at 62-44 following a Kimarley Williams lay-up with 8:40 left in the game.
“Our defense was a total team effort tonight,” added Leslie. “We’ve worked hard on our different traps and rotations the last few days, and I was very pleased with that effort out there.”
Azusa Pacific sweeps the season-series from Vanguard for the eighth time in the past 10 years. The Cougars improve to 18-9 overall, and at 11-6 in the GSAC they hold sole possession of third place in the conference after Biola University let a 12-point halftime lead slip away in a 54-47 loss at home to Concordia University.
Vanguard, which was paced by Alex Chapman’s game-high 19 points, falls to 7-19 overall, 6-11 in the GSAC.