SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Already the architects of impressive comeback that was teetering on being all for naught, the Cougars found themselves in a more dire situation – playing without their best player, down by 6 and running on fumes – in the second overtime. They needed another comeback, something bigger, something better, and they got it.
Azusa Pacific scored 9 unanswered points in the final 2:47 to rally for a second time and beat Point Loma Nazarene University, 108-104 in double overtime, in a Golden State Athletic Conference game in Golden Gym Saturday night.
The victory caps an amazing night of play in which Azusa Pacific rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit, relying on a Reggie Owens’ put-back to force the first OT, rebounding from a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that assured a second OT, and then coming back from a 103-97 hole with less than 3 minutes left in the game without Owens and his career-high 27 points and 14 rebounds, which had just fouled out of the game.
“During a timeout I reinforced to the guys that we were the deeper team and that it’s to our advantage the longer the game goes,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Just Leslie. “I told them to not lose faith and keep getting stops. They did.”
In fact, the Cougars got 5 consecutive stops, and a Danny Nugent jumper with 36 seconds left put Azusa Pacific up for good at 105-104. A De’Angelo Riley blocked shot, the first of 2 in the final 20 seconds, put the ball back in Cougar hands and 3 Caleb Burgess free throws clinched the Cougars sixth straight overtime victory.
“We can beat anybody, but we’re also very beatable,” said Leslie. “I think tonight we grew up a little bit and realized in order for us to be very good we have to defend.”
Behind Marek Hassen’s 16 first-half points, Point Loma Nazarene, which came into the game undefeated in GSAC play, took it to the Cougars, assuming a 48-33 halftime lead. The Sea Lions converted 18 of their first 31 shots, including 7-of-13 from the 3-oint arc, while the Cougars were just 1-of-11 from 3-point territory.
“We’re realizing just how big the bull’s-eye is on our back,” said Leslie. “GSAC teams want to beat us bad. Each time we take a huge shot of emotion and energy from our opponent and tonight it was the same. Point Loma came after us.”
Though they trailed nearly the entire second half, the Cougars quickly chipped away the sizable deficit and had it down to a manageable 6 less than 5 minutes of play in the second half.
On the strength of play from Rhett Beal and Jackson Johnston, Point Loma kept the Cougars at bay until a pair of Mike Caffese free throws gave the Cougars an 83-82 lead with 50 seconds left in regulation, their first lead since Owens’ game-opening basket.
The Sea Lions went back up by 2 at 84-82, and with 4 seconds left Owens put back a Nugent miss to force the first overtime.
“Reggie has such a nose for the ball,” added Leslie. “He came up with baskets when we needed it. And let’s be honest, the big boy is just hard to stop when he gets the ball in the paint.”
When Nugent opened the first overtime with a 3-pointer, Azusa Pacific had its biggest lead of the night at 87-84. The Cougars kept that advantage, pushing it to as much as 5, but Beal’s 3-pointer at the buzzer off a broken play forced a second overtime.
Johnston made lay-up less than 15 seconds into the second OT to put the Sea Lions up, but it was the last field goal Point Loma would make the rest of the game. The Sea Lions tried to survive at the line, making 8-of-9 free throws, including 5 by Beal, to still lead by 5. However, fouls took their toll and Johnston and Klassen were forced out of the game, and with a lack of sharp shooters, Point Loma faltered down the stretch. Freshman Hayden Lescault missed 3 consecutive free throws and then had his potential go-ahead lay-up swatted away by Riley with 17 seconds remaining to set the stage for Burgess’ free throws.
Nugent finished with a season-high 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds. Azusa Pacific out-rebounded Point Loma, 47-35.
“This is the third straight conference win in which we out-rebounded an opponent that statistically was a much better rebounding team than us,” said Leslie. “When we’re playing good defense, we’re rebounding as well.”
Riley added 8 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, 2 of which he registered after Owens had fouled out.
Freshman Robert Sandoval scored a career-high 17 points in just 19 minutes before fouling out. In all, 6 players fouled out, 4 of whom were Cougars, including Caffese. He tallied 13 points and went 8-for-10 at the line.
The Cougars were an impressive 37-for-45 (.822) at the free throw line, while Point Loma struggled at the charity stripe, going just 28-for-50 (.560).
Klassen finished with 26 points to lead Point Loma. Beal added 20, and Johnston had 18.
With the victory Azusa Pacific improves to 7-2 overall, 3-1 in the GSAC. Point Loma Nazarene falls to 5-4 overall, 3-1 in the GSAC.