AZUSA, Calif. – In a 90-minute span Azusa Pacific wiped out the bad memories of a long weekend in Colorado and boosted its self-confidence heading into next week’s GSAC opener with a Thanksgiving feasting on Montana Tech, drilling the Orediggers for a 93-52 victory Wednesday evening before a sparse holiday crowd in the Felix Event Center.
Senior guard Mike Danielian scored 30 points off the bench on the strength of a career-high 6 three-point field goals and sparked a 22-2 Cougar run that opened the game and essentially determined the final outcome.
The victory comes on heels of a 2-game skid in Denver last weekend in which the Cougars were thumped by Mesa State and fell to pieces late in a setback to Colorado Mines. In addition, the win sends the team into the holiday weekend feeling much better about itself as it prepares for Tuesday’s (Dec. 1) GSAC opener at home against The Master’s College.
Azusa Pacific drilled the Orediggers from the opening tip, scoring the game’s first 17 points while forcing Montana Tech to miss its first 6 shots and commit a half-dozen turnovers in the first 6 minutes of play. Danielian capped the 17-0 with 7 consecutive points, nailing his first 3-ball of the night followed by a pair of fast-break lay-ups that came off Cougar steals.
“To be honest Mike needs to be this good,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “I think Mike is one of the best shooters in our conference. He’s a senior, a 4-year player in our program. It’s time for him to step up and leave his signature on this program.”
Azusa Pacific is now 11-2 in games in which Danielian has scored at least 20 points, and the 2 losses came in overtime to nationally-ranked teams on the road.
When Montana Tech finally scored its first points on a Dean Colbray jumper nearly 7 minutes into the game, the Cougar onslaught was not done as Caleb Burgess followed with a jumper and freshman James Staniland buried the first of his 3 treys on the evening to give Azusa Pacific a 22-2 lead at the 12:10 mark of the first half.
Though Danielian led the charge from the gate, it was hardly a one-Cougar effort that knocked the Orediggers off kilter. Eight different Cougars scored Azusa Pacific’s first 24 points in the opening 10 minutes and 3 different Cougars picked up steals.
“The constant emphasis of this team and the determinant of our success is how we defend,” said Leslie. “Montana Tech never got comfortable so obviously they weren’t able to score in the early minutes of the game, but that play gave us a lot of scoring opportunities established by our defense. Our defense set the tone of game early on.”
Azusa Pacific rolled to 45-22 halftime lead and pushed the margin into the 30s and then catapulted the game into a blowout with an 18-5 run highlighted by back-to-back 3-points by Staniland and Danilian that gave the Cougars their largest lead of the night at 87-43 with 3-minites to play.
Staniland finished with 13 points in just 17 minutes of action and teamed with Danielian to drain a combined 9-of-13 shots from beyond the arc.
“It was nice of James to show up,” said Leslie. “There are going to be bumps along the way adjusting to the college game and that has been reflected in James’ play early on. He just has to stay the course, and I’m proud of him. He has had a very rough start to the year, but it hasn’t affected him negatively in terms of his work ethic and attitude.”
Sophomore Marshall Johnson was the only Cougar starter to score in double-digits, finishing with 10 points.
The Cougars committed just 8 turnovers while forcing Montana Tech into a hefty 24 giveaways, 12 of which came off Cougar steals. Point guards Mike Caffese and Ashton Roberts each had game-highs of 4 steals and 4 assists.
All 13 Cougars scored, including senior guard Zane Meehl, who was making first appearance on the hardwood this season after missing the first 5 games with a strained knee.
Azusa Pacific shot 50-percent (34-for-68) from the floor and made a season-high 12 three-pointers.
“We made some very good reads and plays in our offense that we hadn’t been making that led to easy shots,” said Leslie. : We had 18 extra passes tonight and that speaks to guys willing to give up a good looks for a better look for a teammate. I don’t think the way we played the first 5 games is indicative of the type of shooting team that we are. We made some adjustments and tonight it reflected in our play and the result.”
With win Azusa Pacific moves to 4-2 on the season while Montana Tech, which was led by Colbray’s 12 points, falls to 4-5.