AZUSA , Calif. -- Azusa Pacific forward James Staniland probably didn’t even make it onto the whiteboard of San Diego Christian’s pre-game scouting report.
Why should he? The freshman had scored only 24 points combined in the previous 9 games.
Tonight, however, Staniland packed a month’s worth of games into one contest, draining 7-of-8 shots, including 5 3-pointers, to tally a game-high 23 points and register his first-ever 20-point outing on the college level. His torrid touch led the NAIA’s No. 24-ranked Azusa Pacific to an easy 103-70 Golden State Athletic Conference victory at San Diego Christian College Thursday evening.
And with the victory Azusa Pacific clinches its 18th consecutive 20-win season, the longest such streak in GSAC history.
Staniland entered tonight’s game having made just 8 shots from Jan. 26 to Feb. 23. Of the 24 points he scored in that stretch, 18 of them came in 2 blowout decisions. Tonight, he was the reason for the blowout.
Less than 6 minutes in, Staniland came off the bench and made his first 3 shots in just 4 Cougar possessions, spurring a 16-3 Cougar run that gave Azusa Pacific a cushy 24-7 lead nearly midway through first half. In fact, he didn’t miss a shot in the half, knocking down all 6 attempts to lead a Cougar squad that blistered the nets at a .714 (20-for-28) clip in the opening 20 minutes.
“James made his first 3 shots and you could see the look in his eye,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “Once he gets his confidence going, ‘it’s let ‘em rip.’”
“From then on his teammates started looking for him, and that was indicative of the whole game. We passed the ball very well tonight and worked as a unit. We played well.”
Overwhelmed by Azusa Pacific’s pressure defense, the Hawks could not muster an answer to Staniland. They committed 12 first-half turnovers, and when they could get a shot off, they missed 18 of the 24 they took. Thus, the Cougars steamrolled behind Staniland’s 18 first-half points, leading by as much as 32 at 51-19 with still 3 minutes to go in the half.
“It was our best half of the season,” said Leslie. “We’re playing for our postseason life and have no margin for error.”
All-American Dominque Johnson willingly took a back seat to Staniland’s spotlight night, but even then Johnson was nearly as impressive, scoring 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor.
Earlier this season Azusa Pacific handed San Diego Christian its worst loss on the GSAC road, a 102-72 decision in Azusa, and now the Cougars deliver the Hawks their worst loss at home this year.
“This has been a difficult place to play for a lot of GSAC teams this year,” added Leslie, remembering that NAIA nationally-ranked Concordia and Fresno Pacific both lost in the Ryan Center. “We’ve played very well against San Diego this year. We’re a difficult match-up for them.”
With the victory the Cougars improve to 20-9 on the season and continue a streak of 20-win campaigns that began in 1993 when Azusa Pacific went 30-4 and captured its first of a conference-record 13 GSAC championships. In addition, the Cougars momentarily move into sole possession of third place in the GSAC at 13-6, a half-game ahead of Fresno Pacific and Westmont, both of which will be action Saturday night when the Cougars rest.
“Sure there are some games Saturday that can potentially help us,” said Leslie, “but who cares. We can’t be hoping for someone’s foul up.”
The team that finishes in third place in the GSAC is likely to get an at-large berth into the NAIA Tournament. Fresno Pacific hosts front-running Concordia Saturday evening while Westmont visits Vanguard. Westmont then comes home to host Azusa Pacific Monday evening in Santa Barbara in a likely winner-take-all game.
“We have to play our best game on Monday,” said Leslie. “We’re playing well right now, but Westmont is the hottest team in the GSAC, and like us, they’re playing for a spot in the NAIA Tournament and home court advantage in the GSAC Tournament.”
Tip-off for Monday’s game in Murchison Gym on the Westmont campus is set for 7:30 p.m.