AZUSA, Calif. – Junior guard Marshall Johnson scored a season-high 19 points, primarily by muscling his way around the basket and through defenders to lead Azusa Pacific to an 86-66 victory over the University of Calgary Wednesday evening in the Felix Event Center.
The victory comes in the Cougars’ final tune-up before returning to Golden State Athletic Conference play in earnest Saturday, and the emergence of Johnson’s overall game could not come at a better time as Azusa Pacific eyes back-to-back home encounters against undefeated and NAIA Top-5 ranked Concordia University (Jan. 2) and Biola University (Jan. 5).
Johnson made his first 6 shots, including a rainbow trey that put Azusa Pacific up 10-0 two minutes into the game, but was his sixth make that the relatively diminutive 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard used to make his statement of the night. He picked off an errant Dino outlet pass and drove the lane, throwing down a dunk over a Dino defender that gave Azusa Pacific its largest lead at the time at 50-33 early in the second half. And he continued to spend his night above the basket. He scored 12 points in the paint, fighting his way around no less than 6 Calgary frontline players who were at least 3 inches taller, and he snagged 6 rebounds, his second-best collection of the season.
“We responded positively to the physicality of the game,” said Azusa Pacific coach Justin Leslie. “Marshall had a nice performance for us tonight. The game never got away from him. He kept his poise through everything out there and just made buckets when we needed it.”
Johnson led a sharp Cougar offensive attack in which Azusa Pacific made 5 of its first 6 shots despite having not played in 13 days. The Cougars led by as much as 11 before Calgary used a 14-2 run to take its only lead of the game at 21-20.
Azusa Pacific responded with a 12-0 run and never trailed again. Junior forward Caleb Burgess scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, draining a trio of 3-point bombs, including one that gave Azusa Pacific a 44-29 lead shortly before halftime. The Cougars settled for a 44-31 advantage at the break.
“We caught Calgary on the third game of a 3-day trip so they are a little travel weary,” added Leslie, “but they are a good team. That’s as physical a game as we’ve experienced this year. They are some strong, athletic players and they made us work for everything.”
Behind the shooting of All-AmericanDominnique Johnson and freshman James Staniland, the Cougars maintained their double-digit lead throughout the second half, leading by as much as 23 following another Marshall Johnson drive to the bucket that put the Cougars up 78-55 before the benches were cleared. Staniland tossed in 14 points off the bench while Dominique Johnson chipped in with 12 points.
Azusa Pacific matched a much larger Calgary team’s effort on the glass, each collecting 38 rebounds. Junior center Reggie Owens, who earlier in the day returned to California after a ticketing mistake kept him home in Memphis, Tenn., longer than expected, was hardly weary from the travel, snagging a game-high 9 rebounds to go along with his 8 points.
“Though they can do it, Marshall and Dominique have had the luxury throughout their career of not having to rebound in order for their teams to be successful,” said Leslies, “but for this team to be successful they must rebound. To get 10 from our 2 guards tonight is very good.”
Calgary was paced by Robbie Sihota’s 15 points and 7 rebounds while Tyler Fidler added 12 points and 9 rebounds.
Azusa Pacific now turns its attention toward GSAC rivals Concordia and Biola, which are both 12-0 on the season. The Cougars will need the recent play of Marshall Johnson to continue. Over the past 4 games he is averaging 15 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2 assists.
“Ready or not here it comes,” said Leslie. “We’re definitely a work in progress and have a long way to go. I don’t think this is nearly the team we’re going to see come March. We have a lot of room to grow, but at the same time I’m proud of our last 2 wins.”
Tip-off for the Concordia game is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and it precedes the women’s game against Concordia as well which begins at 5:30 p.m.