LEWISTON, Ida. -- One thing the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific can do well is play defense, and when they want to, the Cougars can lock down and frustrate an opponent right out of a game. Such was the case tonight.
Down by 3 points with 5 minutes left in the first half, the Cougars put the clamps on Lewis-Clark State, forcing 8 straight missed shots and 6 turnovers in an 8-minute stretch in which Azusa Pacific out-scored the Warriors, 21-0. Game over. The Cougars cruised the rest of the night, beating Lewis-Clark State, 78-57, in the championship game of the Life Flight Holiday Tournament in the LCSC Activity Center.
The Warriors came into the game averaging 86 points a game and shooting 47-percent on the season. Azusa Pacific held them to a season-low 57 points and just 36-percent (20-for-56) shooting.
“Defense is the key to our season,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “How much we buy into and care about defense determines our success each game. We can’t count on shooting. We can’t count on the officiating, but we can count on our defense.”
Tournament MVP Reggie Owens scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds to lead the Cougars to their fourth straight victory and the program’s first back-to-back road victories over Frontier Conference teams in 15 years.
A David Johnson 3-pointer gave Lewis-Clark State its biggest lead of the night at 24-19. Moments later, the Warriors were still up by 3 at 26-23 following an Andrew Packwood jumper with 5:40 remaining in the first half. However, it was their last points of the half and their last field goal until 17:21 of the second half. In the meantime, the Cougars pounced on a tiring set of Warriors.
“We wore them out,” said Leslie. “There was nothing left in their tank. Emotionally and physically, they were beaten at that point. They were tired and their shots didn’t drop”
Owens (4 points), Danny Nugent (5), and Marshall Johnson (4) teamed for a 13-0 run to put Azusa Pacific up 36-26 at halftime. The Cougars then scored on 4 of their first 5 possessions of the second half while continuing to hold the Warriors scoreless, assuming a 44-26 lead following an Owens lay-up just over 2 minutes into the second half.
Johnson finished with 15 points and joined Owens on the all-tournament team. Nugent scored 14 points and made 6-of-9 shots in 24 minutes of play.
“L-C State was bigger and a little stronger than us, but Danny was very patient and picked his spots really well tonight,” added Leslie. “He played off Reggie and our guards, and had very heady game.”
In all, Azusa Pacific forced 21 Warrior turnovers, 15 of which came off Cougar steals.
For the fourth time in 2 weeks, Azusa Pacific out-rebounded a foe known for its ability to hit the glass. The Cougars collected 48 missed shots to LCSC’s 34, and nearly beat them at their own basket, collecting 19 offensive rebounds compared to the Warriors’ 23 defensive rebounds. Owens had 7 offensive rebounds, and accounted for 8 of the Cougars’ 13 second-chance points
“We were the better, deeper team,” said Leslie. “We had a lot of guys score tonight, and defensively we really buckled down and played a very good game.”
L-C State was paced by Johnson’s 18 points and falls to 8-3.
With the victory Azusa Pacific improves 9-2 overall, and returns home Monday (Dec. 20) to host No. 6-ranked and undefeated Westminster College in a 7:30 p.m. game in the Felix Event Center.