COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Freshman guard Robert Sandoval scored 13 first-half points on the way to the best game of his brief career, and senior forward Caleb Burgess scored 9 of his 16 points in the second half as the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific “bookended” Vanguard for an 88-66 Golden State Athletic Conference victory Thursday night.
Sandoval, a former All-CIF guard out of Clovis (Calif.) East High, came off the bench to tally 15 points to go along with 4 rebounds and a career-high 6 assists in 27 minutes of action. He spurred a 20-6 Cougar run midway through the first half that seemingly put the Cougars out of reach.
Azusa Pacific led 48-30 at halftime, had the game under control, and appeared to be headed toward its largest margin of victory in Vanguard’s “Pit” in over 15 years.
However, they needed every bit of Burgess’ heroics late in the game. Vanguard played even with Azusa Pacific through the first 10 minutes of the second half, never allowing the Cougars to lead by more than 20 points. The Lions then began to whittle away at the deficit, first fashioning a 7-0 run to get the deficit to 13.
A mini surge by the Cougars, started by a David Stafford trey, kept the Azusa Pacific cushion at 15 for about 2 minutes, but behind the long-range shooting of Chris Pynch, Vanguard went on an 8-0 run to ignite the nerves in the Azusa Pacific corner, pulling to within 7 at 71-64 with 4 minutes remaining.
The Cougars, who had made just 1 field goal in a near 7-minute stretch, got a lot of help from Vanguard’s Pynch when he argued a called foul and was slapped with a technical. The Cougars made 3-of-4 free throws to regain the double-digit lead, and that seemed enough to relax the Cougars.
Senior forward Danny Nugent then ended the shooting drought with a 3-pointer and Burgess followed with 2 more as Azusa Pacific closed the game with a 17-2 run, giving the appearance that the Cougars were never in trouble throughout the night.
However, it an effort early in the game and one late to create an appearance of a blowout that never really was there.
Senior center Reggie Owens registered his seventh double-double of the season with game-highs of 18 points (on 8-for-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds. Nugent finished with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, and All-GSAC guard Marshall Johnson chipped in 11 as well.
Freshman guard Nolan Abernathy handed out a game- and career-high 8 assists
Azusa Pacific held Vanguard to just 36-percent (20-for-56) shooting and out-rebounded the Lions by a hefty 40-28 count. The Lions were paced by Christopher Raybon’s 17 points.
Azusa Pacific has now won 6 straight over Vanguard and has taken 24 of the past 26 meetings. The Cougars improves to 15-2 overall, 6-1 in the GSAC. Vanguard falls to 3-13 overall, 1-7 in the GSAC.