AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific recorded its first back-to-back wins since a season-opening 3-game winning streak, leading all but the opening 2 minutes of an 83-71 non-conference victory over Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) Thursday night.
Senior guard Dominique Johnson led all scorers with 19 points, including 15 in the second half, and junior center Reggie Owens pulled down a season-high 12 boards to stake the Cougars to a 45-30 rebounding advantage.
A Marshall Johnson 3-pointer less than 2 minutes into the game sparked a 12-0 run, giving Azusa Pacific a lead it would never relinquish. Junior forward Caleb Burgess, who entered the game shooting a team-high 51 percent from 3-point range, drilled his first open look from long range and followed with a 15-foot baseline fadeaway to give the Cougars a 35-17 lead just past the midway point of the opening half.
However, in less than 5 minutes, Lewis-Clark State put together a 16-2 run to pull to within 4 at 37-33 before another Burgess jumper slowed the Warriors’ momentum and allowed the Cougars to close out the period with an 8-0 burst. Freshman guard James Staniland’s 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds to go in the half capped the run and sent Azusa Pacific into halftime with a 39-27 advantage.
“I think the talent level we played tonight was a GSAC-caliber team,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said of Lewis-Clark State, the second Frontier Conference team Azusa Pacific has played this year in non-conference action.
“They were able to get after us defensively, and that’s the caliber of team we’ll play in our conference. If tonight was any indicator, along with the games we’ve already had in GSAC play, there’s going to be a lot more of these types of games ahead for us.”
The second half followed the first-half blueprint, as the Cougars reeled off 14 straight points at the front end of an 18-1 run that resulted in a 69-46 lead, Azusa Pacific’s largest of the game, with 11:09 remaining. Again, Lewis-Clark State came roaring back, this time scoring 11 straight as part of a 24-5 run that trimmed the lead back to 4 points at 74-70 with 5:01 to play.
“When we stop protecting the basket and stop defending, it obviously allows other teams to score, but then it slows down our offense, too,” Leslie said. “When we get stops, we’re very good about going down to the other end and capitalizing, but if we allow teams to get quality looks on us, then we’re in jeopardy.”
At that point, junior point guard Mike Caffese came up with a pair of back-breaking steals, the first setting up a pair of Owens free throws and the second leading Marshall Johnson to a fast-break dunk for a 78-70 lead with 3:53 left. Caffese, the national NAIA Division I per-game steals leader, tallied 4 of his season-high 7 steals in the second half.
Lewis-Clark State scored its only point in the final 5 minutes on a Daniel Williams free throw, and the Warriors still trailed by 7 points when Dominique Johnson stepped in front of a kick-out to the 3-point line. Johnson made the first of 2 free throws at the other end, and Owens pushed the lead back into double digits at 81-71 with a putback of Johnson’s missed second from the charity stripe with 2:22 left. Johnson made 2 more free throws in the final minute for the final 12-point margin.
“We had some offensive rebound baskets that were huge for us when we couldn’t buy a bucket,” Leslie said. “We got our best shooters some great looks, but we just weren’t hitting the shots.”
Lewis-Clark State featured a trio of 14-point scorers, led by Daniel Williams’ 14-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist effort. Terrell Wallace and Markus Monroe were the Warriors’ other 2 double-digit scorers.
All 11 Cougars who saw action entered the scoring column, with Owens notching a pair of blocks in the opening minute and finishing with 15 points to go with his season-best rebounding effort for his third double-double of the year. Marshall Johnson added 10 points and 5 rebounds, and senior guard Mike Danielian was 2-of-3 from 3-point range for an 8-point contribution off the bench.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 7-4 overall, while Lewis-Clark State drops to an identical 7-4 season mark. The Cougars are off until December 30, when they host their final non-conference opponent of the season, the University of Calgary, in a 7:30 p.m. contest.