SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – The NAIA’s No. 25-ranked The Master’s College found a hot hand in the nick of time to overcome a sluggish start and knock off No. 17 Azusa Pacific, 65-62, in a Golden State Athletic Conference game Tuesday evening in Bross Gym.
The Mustangs, who missed 12 of their first 14 shots and at one point trailed by as much as 14 in the first half, drained 4 straight 3-point field goals as part of an 18-4 run to overcome the Cougars and assume a 54-47 lead with just over 7 minutes left in the game. From there the Mustangs held on, taking advantage of poor free throw shooting by the Cougars and several missed lay-ups, to secure its first regular-season sweep of the Cougars since 1995.
Neither team shot well, combining for a paltry .403 (48-for-119) clip from floor, but with 11 minutes left in the game and Azusa Pacific already rebuffing one Mustang run, The Master’s found its collective stroke from the floor, and Joey Fuca, Leif Karlberg, Brandon Bibbins and Dean Hadley all buried treys in a 3-minute stretch that turned an Azusa Pacific 46-40 lead into a Mustang 54-47 advantage.
Fuca led all players with 17 points, including 10 in the second half. In addition, Raphael Harris scored 10 of his 14 points after halftime, and Karlberg tallied all 11 of his points in the second half. After shooting just 23-percent (7-for-31) in the first half, the Mustangs came back to drain 18-of-29 (62-percent) of their shots in the second half, which included 7 from the arc.
All-American Dominique Johnson led Azusa Pacific with 15 points, but Johnson, who came into the game seventh in the GSAC in free throw shooting at 79-percent, missed 6-of-10 free throws tonight, including a pair of technical free throws in the second half. He had a chance to redeem himself and send the game into overtime but his 3-point attempt from the left wing at the final horn circled the rim and spun off, and Azusa Pacific has its season-high 7-game winning streak snapped and is handed its first lost on the GSAC road in 6 games this season.
Sophomore Marshall Johnson added 12 points and 7 rebounds, but he had 5 of the Cougars’ 15 turnovers. Junior Caleb Burgess added 11 points, including 7 in the opening 10 minutes of the game to propel the Cougars to a 20-6 lead.
The Mustangs held the lead for the final 9 minutes though the Cougars pulled to within a single point on a couple of occasions and missed an opportunity to tie the game on a Dominique Johnson 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining. The Mustangs took the long rebound in the opposite direction and highlighted the transition with a Hadley dunk that pushed their lead to 5 at 65-60 with 35 seconds left. A Mason Maynard put-back got the Cougars to within 3 and with 46-percent shooting Roy Walker missed the frontend of a 1-and-1 free throw with 10 seconds left, the Cougars had one last chance to force overtime. Out of a timeout with 6 seconds left, the Cougars set up Johnson for long but open trey that lipped out as the final horn sounded.
With Biola falling at Fresno Pacific, Azusa Pacific missed a chance to pull to within a game of first-place in the GSAC. Instead, the Cougars fall back into a third-place tie with The Master’s. Both Azusa Pacific and The Master’s own identical records of 15-7 overall, 8-4 in the GSAC.