EAGLE ROCK, Calif. -- Occidental took away Reggie Owens, so every other Cougar, particularly those on the bench, played in his stead, and for 20 minutes they played very very well.
Azusa Pacific fashioned a 21-4 blitz over a furiously fast-paced 5-minute stretch to roll away from Occidental College for an 82-52 victory in the final game of Oxy’s Thanksgiving Classic in Rush Gym Saturday evening.
The Cougars rained 3s, slammed dunks, picked pockets and sprinted all over the court in such a dizzying pace that the Occidental coaching staff used 5 of its allotted 6 timeouts in just 9 minutes of the first half.
Azusa Pacific was up 7-4 a little over 3 minutes into the game when Head Coach Justin Leslie subbed 5 new Cougars, and the sprint was on. Less than 4 seconds into the game Caleb Burgess made a lay-up off a nifty James Staniland pass. De’Angelo Riley followed with a dunk off another Staniland pass. Burgess nailed a long jumper before Robert Sandoval weaved his way through the Tiger defense for another lay-up. Staniland then buried back-to-back 3-pointers to highlight a 14-0 run.
The Tigers made a basket, but the Cougars followed with a conventional 3-point play by Danny Nugent. Oxy converted a pair of free throws, however at the other end of the court Mike Caffese drove the gut and kissed the glass for another Cougar lay-up. And when Marshall Johnson had a Burgess missed 3 fall into his hands and gently laid the ball back into the basket, Azusa Pacific was up 28-8 with more than 11 minutes left in the first half. Seven different Cougars, and none of them named Owens, had accounted for 21 points in 4 minutes and 55 seconds.
All the while, Occidental missed 4-of-5 shots and committed 6 turnovers.
“Make no mistake about it, you play defense like that and shots will start falling,” said Leslie. “The second unit brought a whole new energy level to the game and defensively they did a very fine job. I wish we would have made more shots, but defensively we gave a great effort in the first half and never allowed Occidental to get comfortable.”
Azusa Pacific cruised the rest of the way, taking a 42-22 lead into the locker room at halftime
Play got a tad sloppy in the second half but the Cougars forged its first 30-point advantage with 8 minutes remaining in the game when a Staniland lay-up put Azusa Pacific up 66-35. The Cougars maintained the 30-point cushion the rest of the way.
Owens, who came into the game averaging a team-high 21 points a game, was double-teamed on the block throughout the entire night and wasn’t able to get off a shot in the first half. He was held to just 7 points, all coming in the second half. He did improve upon his team-best .744 shooting clip by converting all 3 of his shots, and he snared a team-high 9 rebounds.
“I’ve seen a lot of double-teams, so I’m used to it,” said Owens. “I trust my teammates to make plays outside of me. We were leading by 20 at halftime, so it was okay I didn’t have any shots in the first half.”
“Occidental was not going to let Reggie go off and beat them, so other guys had to step up, and Reggie had to make better passes. That’s something that is going to help us prepare for GSAC play. I think this is a great learning experience for us. You have to game plan for Reggie, but he’s good enough that he can pass out of it.”
All 15 Cougars played and 13 scored, led by Nugent and Staniland, who each finished with a team-best 13 points. Burgess added 11. Sandoval had 5 points, 5 rebounds, a pair of steals and a season-high 6 assists in 18 minutes of play. Caffese chipped in with 7 points, 4 steals and 3 assists.
The Cougars’ relentless defense held Occidental to just 38-percent (20-for-53) shooting from the floor and forced a hefty 25 turnovers, including 14 in the first half.
Nugent and Owens were named to the all-tournament team,
With the victory, Azusa Pacific pushes its winning streak to 4 straight and improves to 4-1 on the season. In addition, the Cougars have now won 12 straight over Occidental.
Just 5 games into the season, Azusa Pacific must now turn its attention to Golden State Athletic Conference play, which opens Tuesday (Nov. 30) when the Cougars host Fresno Pacific University at 7:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center.
“Basketball-wise we still have a long way to go,” said Leslie, “and I think we’re still figuring things out. But we have enough returners and are mature enough that we’ll give the effort that a conference game requires.”