FRESNO, Calif. – The ghost of Chris Webber lives on in Fresno, Calif., far from his incarnation in New Orleans some 17 years ago, but still just as potent of a figure.
Jesse Childs’ request for a timeout with 0.9 second left in regulation came with a fatal cost when he realized all too late that Fresno Pacific University did not have any timeouts left. As a result, the Sunbirds were slapped with a technical foul, and Azusa Pacific’s Reggie Owens sank 2 free throws to lift the Cougars to a thrilling, if not gift-wrapped, come-from-behind 75-73 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Fresno Pacific Tuesday evening.
The whole last-second scenario was reminiscent of Webber’s ill-advised request for a timeout in the 1993 NCAA championship game when his Michigan Wolverines did not have any left in their pocket. Instead of firing a potential game-tying shot in the last 10 seconds, Webber single-handedly gave possession of the ball and the championship to the North Carolina Tar Heels in one of the all-time classic endings in college basketball history.
In a rather stark reminder of Webber’s blunder, Azusa Pacific was the benefactor of a momentary lapse of memory. Yet the Cougars created the opportunity for victory with a furious comeback in the final 50 seconds in which Owens scored the game’s final 6 points.
The game was a tight battle throughout the entire night, but Fresno Pacific wrestled away the lead with 15:14 left in the game and didn’t let Azusa Pacific have a scoreboard advantage for the next 15:13.1 minutes. When All-GSAC forward Todd Brown sank a long jumper with 51 seconds left, the Sunbirds appeared to have an insurmountable 73-69 lead.
Enter into the spotlight Owens and his 6-foot-6, 275-pound frame. On the Cougars’ ensuing possession, Owens was fouled in the key and made the first of 2 free throws with 47 seconds left. His missed the second, but Caleb Burgess and Dominique Johnson battled to keep the ball from falling into the hands of a Sunbird and the Cougars retained possession. Owens then scored and was fouled on an out-of-bounds play. He converted the conventional 3-point play to knot the game at 73-73 with 45 seconds remaining.
“We got Reggie into the post and rode him home,” said third-year Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “He did a great job of sealing defenders and making shots.”
Childs missed a 3-pointer at the other end, and Azusa Pacific had the ball for the final shot with 28 seconds left.
Johnson wound the clock down and, under Leslie’s order, he didn’t go for a shot until 6 seconds were left.
“I wasn’t going to leave an extra second on the clock,” added Leslie. “If he missed we were going to overtime.”
Or so Leslie thought.
Johnson did miss, and badly, firing an air-ball from 3-point territory that Childs secured into his hands, and without hesitation he called the timeout that wasn’t available.
In spite of his miss moments before, Owens and his 89-percent free-throw shooting were back at the line where he calmly knocked down both for a stunning and sudden end to the game.
“That’s the most fun I’ve had in a locker room after a game in my 3 years as a head coach,” said Leslie. “This was a great game, with big shots and great plays by both teams.”
Johnson led Azusa Pacific with 14 points, while sophomore guard Marshall Johnson added 13. Owens finished with 10 points, all in the second half, and a game-high 7 rebounds off the bench. Freshman James Staniland chipped in with 9 points on 3-for-4 shooting at the 3-point arc, and senior Mike Danielian also tallied 9 points.
The Cougars made 12-of-24 shots from the 3-point line.
“The story of this game was our 3-point shooting,” said Leslie. “Every time they went up by 4 or 5 points, someone hit a 3 for us, and several of them came in crunch time.”
Johnson knocked down a trey with just under 7 minutes left after Fresno Pacific had assumed its largest lead of the second half at 61-56. Moments later, Stafford, who came into the game shooting 29-percent on the season, banged a 3 to knot the game at 64-64. Staniland hit the last 3 of the game with 3:20 remaining to again tie the game at 69-69.
“We’re making strides and starting to figure out how to play together,” said Leslie. “It may not seem like much, but for the first time in over a month we played with the same players for the same rotation in back-to-back games. The chemistry is improving.”
Reigning GSAC Player of the Year James Lewis led Fresno Pacific with 15 points while Childs finished with 13.
Interestingly the Cougars are a perfect 3-0 on the GSAC road this year. They improve to 10-6 overall, and even their GSAC mark at 3-3. Fresno Pacific, the defending GSAC champion falls to 13-3 overall, 3-3 in the GSAC.