LA MIRADA, Calif. -- There is no such thing as an easy win over Biola.
For the 30 years that Dave Holmquist has been the Eagles’ head coach, every game, every verdict, and nearly every play is a grind. It takes patience, endurance and focus to play against a Holmquist team. It’s why he is one of college basketball’s elite coaches with over 800 victories.
So despite the fact that the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific led for 35 minutes and 55 seconds of tonight’s 40-minute contest with Biola, the Cougars were never at ease … until the very end.
All-GSAC guard Marshall Johnson led a balanced attack with 15 points, which included a pair of rim-rattling dunks, to pace Azusa Pacific to a near wire-to-wire 70-57 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over No. 18 Biola before a crowd of 2,300 Tuesday evening at Chase Gym.
“I’ve said many times before, Biola doesn’t let you play pretty,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “They have a way of slowing you down, packing it in and making it hard to score, but we were pretty patient against that.”
The Cougars started a 14-4 run about 7 minutes into the game to move out to a 21-12 lead following a David Stafford lay-up. They never trailed again, leading by as much as 13 on a few occasions, but never did they feel in complete control in spite having Biola in a chase mode the entire second half.
“Biola was scoring too much to start the game, and we couldn’t force tempo,” said Leslie. “Anytime they score, they’re real good about getting back and setting their defense. As the half wore on, they started missing shots then we were able to get some easier looks and force the tempo.”
Senior center Reggie Owens snapped out of a 2-week slump with his eighth double-double of the season, but his first in 6 games, with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, 8 of which game in the second half as he asserted his will over a bigger set of Eagle front linemen, something he was unable to do in Friday’s loss to No. 2 Concordia when he had just 5 rebounds.
“I’m glad to be back. I’ve been struggling lately,” said Owens. “I needed to play great because we were coming off a loss and playing a ranked team. I had a good practice yesterday, so I knew I was back to being Reggie. I focused tonight on getting better position and taking my time on the block and going to work.”
After Azusa Pacific’s early run, Biola closed to within 2 points at 24-22, but it was the only time that the Eagles would cut their deficit to a single possession the rest of the night. Owens answered with a lay-up to ignite a 15-4 Cougar run that ended the first half. In the waning moments of the outburst De’Angelo Riley blocked a shot, and Johnson followed at the other end of the court with high-flying baseline dunk off a perfectly placed lob pass from Dallas Rutherford.
“I needed to get back to playing more aggressive and getting after it,” said Johnson. “It’s been a couple of rough games, and Reggie and I have been holding each other accountable, kicking each other’s but, so to say. We’re leaders of this team, and we have to pick it up.”
Sandwiched around the dunk was a pair of long-range, top-of-the-key 3-pointers from the hands of freshman guard Robert Sandoval, his last giving the Cougars a 39-28 lead at halftime.
Biola switched to a zone defense in the second half, which momentarily slowed the Cougars, but the Eagles could get no closer than 5 points in the second half at 48-43, following a 4-point possession in which Johnson was slapped with a technical foul for arguing about Azusa Pacific getting 8 of the first 9 fouls in the second half.
Out of the technical, though, Azusa Pacific forward Danny Nugent nailed a long trey from the left wing to get the Cougars back up by 8 as they solved the Eagles’ zone defense. And for every bucket Biola made, Owens seemingly answered with one of his own at the other end to keep the Eagles at an arm’s length.
A Johnson conventional 3-point play pushed the Cougars advantage back to 13 at 63-50 with 6:13 left in the game, and the Eagles, as they had in the first half, ran out of gas at both ends of the floor, unable to stop another Nugent trey and unable to make a field goal the final 5 minutes of the game.
“We played pretty efficient tonight, shooting 51-percent against that defense,” said Leslie, “but at the end of the day I think we just wore them out. They had no legs as the game went on.”
Senior forward Caleb Burgess, who scored 12 points, knocked down a big 3-pointer from the right wing, to highlight a 10-2 second half run.
Nugent tossed in 10 points in his first start since mid-December. Sandoval finished with 10 points and a game-high 4 assists.
Biola guard Dwight Gordon led all players with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting.
With the win Azusa Pacific improves to 20-3 overall to push its streak of 20-win seasons to 19 straight. In addition, the Cougars have a secure hold on second place in the GSAC with an 11-2 conference mark, 2 games ahead of Biola, which with the loss falls to 19-4 overall, 9-4 in the GSAC.