LEWISTON, Ida. -- All-GSAC guard Marshall Johnson enjoyed his best game of the season and led 5 Cougars in double-digit scoring as the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific led wire-to-wire in an 84-72 victory over Montana State-Northern at the Life Flight Network Holiday Tournament hosted by Lewis-Clark State College Friday night.
Johnson, who came into the game averaging 10 points and shooting just 40-percent on the season, scored a season-high 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and added 6 rebounds and a pair of assists to his 27-minute effort tonight.
He didn’t score his first points until midway through the first half, but once he got rolling, he was hard to stop, draining 5-of-7 shots to pace Azusa Pacific to a 43-33 halftime lead.
“This was Marshall’s best game of the year and he did everything well from shooting to passing to rebounding,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “He led us, and when say ‘us’ I mean a lot of people, because this was a balanced effort tonight.”
Azusa Pacific never trailed, scoring the game’s first 8 points behind the attacking play of senior guard Mike Caffese, who when he wasn’t driving the lane for a lay-up was setting up his teammates, finishing with 11 points, 8 assists and 2 steals.
The Cougars continually attacked the basket, either through the drives of Caffese and his back-up, freshman point guard Robert Sandoval, who registered 13 points and 5 assists, or by getting the ball inside to centers Reggie Owens and De’Angelo Riley, who combined for 28 points on 13-for-19 shooting.
“Our backcourt dominated the game tonight in terms of getting the ball into the paint and making good decisions,” said Leslie.
The Cougars were so good inside that they rarely ventured outside, shooting a season-low 10 three-pointers. They scored 60 of their 84 points in the paint, and yet ironically, for a team that pounded the ball inside so much, Azusa Pacific shot just 11 free throws, and 7 of those came in the final 3 minutes when the Northern Lights were trying to trim a double-digit deficit by fouling the Cougars.
“This was a grow-up game for us,” added Leslie. “We kept our poise in spite of the circumstances and played a pretty solid game. I’m proud of them.”
Azusa Pacific made 4 3-balls and a trio of them came in succession when Caffese, Sandoval and Danny Nugent capped 3 straight possessions with treys that gave the Cougars a 72-57 lead with 6 minutes left in the game.
The Cougars shot a season-high 64-percent (35-for-55) from the floor and out-rebounded the Northern Lights, 29-22. Owens grabbed a game-high 7 caroms.
Montana-State Northern, which has yet to beat Azusa Pacific in 4 meetings, was paced by Shaun Tatarka’s game-high 18 points. With the loss, the Northern Lights fall to 6-4.
The Cougars, who are playing in Idaho for the first time in 15 years, improve to 8-2, and will meet tournament host Lewis-Clark State, also 8-2, for the tournament title Saturday (Dec. 18) at 7:30 p.m. in the LCSC Activity Center.