EL CAJON, Calif. -- Senior forward Caleb Burgess scored 5 of his 12 points in the final 86 seconds of play, including the go-ahead 3-pointer, to cap a wild comeback in which the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific rallied from 20 down to beat San Diego Christian College, 72-67, in a Golden State Athletic Conference game in Ryan Gym Saturday afternoon.
Burgess’ only triple of the night, which defied the Cougars’ otherwise abysmal long-range shooting in the game, gave Azusa Pacific a 67-66 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining. He then drained a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left to make it a 2-possiession game and essentially clinch the victory, which for the better part of 38 minutes appeared to San Diego Christian’s to claim in a monumental upset.
The Hawks, who sit dead last in the GSAC and struggle in the variety of areas in the game, nonetheless do one thing very well – shoot the 3-pointer. The Cougars, on the other hand, perform well in several aspects, such as shooting the ball and playing defense. In the opening 20 minutes of today’s game, Azusa Pacific could do neither, shoot nor defend, and Hawks took advantage.
Led by Tyler Mutton, San Diego Christian scored 16 of the game’s first 21 points, making 3-pointers from all over the floor. The Cougars, to their surprise, had no answer, and SDCC just continued to roll, moving out to a stunning 20-point lead, 42-22, with just over 3 minutes left in the first half.
A mini run put some life back into the Cougars, but still they trailed by 15 points, 45-30, at halftime with no sign anywhere of their sharp shooting or relentless defense. San Diego Christian, which came into the game second in the GSAC averaging 8 three-pointers a game, made 7 in the first half alone, and was running around and through a lethargic and porous Cougar defense by making 19-of-30 (.633) shots, a pace that was more than 20-percent better than its season clip
At the other end of the court, Azusa Pacific missed 14-of-23 shots, including all 9 attempts from the 3-point arc, and was being out-rebounded by the GSAC’s second-worst rebounding team, despite themselves being the GSAC’s best.
All the numbers, including the score, seemed to be the making of a perfect storm against Azusa Pacific, or perhaps the Cougars were just trying to add some drama to their otherwise methodical and controlling play that over the past month had produced a 12-game winning streak in which they were thumping teams by a ho-hum average of 16 points a game.
By the final horn it did seem that the Cougars were toying with San Diego Christian, because the second half was a thing of beauty. The Cougar defense suffocated San Diego Christian, allowing the Hawks to make just 4 field goals – 8 points – from the floor, and Azusa Pacific out-rebounded the Hawks by 11 while holding them to a mere one offensive rebound for the game.
The Cougars made 4 of their first 5 shots of the second half and trimmed the deficit to manageable 9 points just 3 minutes into the fame. Three minutes later senior David Stafford, who scored 8 of his 10 points in the second half, buried a 3-pointer to pull Azusa Pacific to within 5 at 50-45. The Cougars were in the midst of 23-8 run and order was restored, even if they didn’t have the lead.
In fact, Azusa Pacific didn’t get its first lead of the game until junior guard Marshall Johnson completed a 10-0 Cougar run with another 3-pointer that put Azusa Pacific up 55-54 with 8 minutes left in the contest. From there the 2 teams traded the lead 4 more times.
A Mutton 3-pointer, one of his 6 in the game, gave the Hawks a 4-point advantage, but the southpaw Stafford answered with one of his own, and when senior Danny Nugent followed with back-to-back jumpers, the Cougars were back up by 3 at 62-59 with 5 minutes to play.
Perhaps playing with a new sense of hope, San Diego Christian would not go away, and resumed a lead when Jason Starr converted 2 free throws with 1:42 left, putting the Hawks up 66-64.
That’s when Burgess, who had missed his first 6 shots from the 3-point arc, finally knocked one down to give the Cougars a 67-66 lead it would surrender. Freshman guard Robert Sandoval picked Hawk Tory Dudgeon and the Cougars tacked on 2 more points on Johnson free throws with 36 seconds left to put the Hawks in chase mode. They never caught Azusa Pacific and thus fell to the Cougars for an eighth straight time.
Five different Cougars scored in double figures, led by senior center De’Angelo Riley’s 14 points off the bench to go along with his game-high 8 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. Johnson added 12 points, and Reggie Owens chipped in 10.
Mutton led San Diego Christian with a game-high 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting. With the Hawks fall to 7-13 overall, 1-9 in GSAC play.
The Cougars concluded the first half of GSAC play with a 13-game winning streak, their longest since fashioning a 15-gamer in 2006. Azusa Pacific improves to 18-2 overall, it’s best 20-game record since the 2001 Cougars set the standard by winning 18 of their first 20 as well, and move to 9-1 in GSAC play.