AZUSA, Calif. – Evidently Azusa Pacific found an AC outlet just in time, for the Cougars mustered enough energy late in the game to avoid a disastrous upset and beat Point Loma Nazarene, 78-69, in a Golden State Athletic Conference game in the Felix Event Center.
Sparked by a Mike Caffese trey, the Cougars went on an 11-0 blitz with less than 5 minutes remaining to overcome a game-long lethargic effort and put away an opportunistic Point Loma that was on the verge of stealing a victory and producing the biggest upset of the night in the GSAC.
“That was 100-percent a flat effort,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “At this time of the season and where we’re at in the standings, there is no excuse for that effort. I can’t explain it. We had a great practice yesterday and should have come out with a greater sense of urgency tonight.”
Point Loma Nazarene rallied from 13 down in the first half and a 6-point (38-32) halftime deficit to take a 64-63 lead on a Todd Campbell jumper with 4:40 left in the game. That’s when Caffese followed with just his fifth 3-point field goal of the season, a bomb from the top of the key, to put the Cougars back on top. He then picked Point Loma’s Jake Johnston and launched the ball down-court to a sprinting Dominque Johnson for an easy lay-up to put Azusa Pacific up 68-64. Johnson scored 6 of 18 points during the game-winning run, capping it with yet another lay-up that gave the Cougars an insurmountable 74-64 lead with 2:10 left in the game.
“At that moment we were solid defensively,” said Leslie. “We finally got a couple of defensive stops and played they way we’re capable.”
Led by Marshall Johnson who scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the first half, Azusa Pacific parlayed a 26-8 run to a 35-22 lead with 3 minutes left in the first half. From then on, however, the Sea Lions continually chipped away, even assuming the lead less than 3 minutes into the second half. Yet as Caffese would do late in the game, Marshall Johnson did early in the half, knocking down a 3 from the left baseline to douse a short-lived Sea Lion lead.
Four minutes later, Point Loma tied the game at 53-all on a Johnston lay-up, but again the Cougars answered with a 3-pointer, this time from Caleb Burgess. The Cougars, though, could not put away Point Loma, going more than 5 minutes without a field goal by missing 5 straight shots, including 4 lay-ups. The Sea Lions took advantage and assumed a 62-60 lead on a De Andre Jones’ bucket.
Caffese sandwiched Campbell’s basket with 3 of his own points on either side, scoring 6 of his 14 points in a 60-second span to single-handedly snap the Cougars out of their funk.
Azusa Pacific, which ran roughshod on the Sea Lions last month in San Diego with an 18-point victory, could not cool off a hot-shooting set of Sea Lions tonight. Point Loma canned 29-of-53 shots (.547), which included a 16-for-23 clip in the second half. Hancock led the way with 19 points and a game-high 9 rebounds.
“I have to give Point Loma credit,” said Leslie. “They did a good job of taking advantage of our lack of height. Hancock got them going and the rest of them continually attacked the basket.”
Burgess finished with 15 points and a game-high 7 rebounds to go along with 3 assists.
Azusa Pacific has now won 9 of its past 11 but has been less than impressive in its last 4 games after beating No. 2-ranked Concordia University by 13 points on the road 2 weeks.
“I’m scared to death about next week,” said Leslie. “If we play with the same energy level we had tonight, we’ll get run out of our own gym Tuesday night against Fresno Pacific. We got a win tonight but that’s not the way we want to earn our victories.”
Point Loma Nazarene falls to 8-16 overall, 5-11 in the GSAC. With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 17-8 overall, 10-5 in the GSAC.