AZUSA, Calif. -- You can excuse the Cougars if they were a little sloppy in play Saturday night against Point Loma Nazarene. They were coming off back-to-back, high emotion, high intensity, large-crowd contests against nationally-ranked Concordia and Biola. And Saturday’s play was far removed from the type of performance they turned in the previous 2 games.
However, wings Marshall Johnson and David Stafford combined for 37 points, 10, rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals to offer enough stability that allowed the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific escape Point Loma Nazarene, 82-70, in a Golden State Athletic Conference victory play before a third of the size of crowd they had played in front of against Concordia and Biola.
“There could be some factor in our play tonight toward a letdown over the past 2 games,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie, “but that’s how it’s going to be the rest of the year in the GSAC. It’s not going to be easy – any of these remaining games. We can’t blame tonight’s play on the factor of the past 2 games. If we do, we’ll be in jeopardy in Kansas City (site of the NAIA Tournament).”
Johnson scored a season-high 21 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists, and Stafford added 16 points and 5 steals to offset the Cougars’ whopping 21 turnovers, their most ball-handling miscues this season.
Azusa Pacific’s inability to handle the ball led to its surrender of a 9-point halftime lead. Behind the 3-point shooting assault of Rhett Beal and Marek Klassen, the Sea Lions went on a 16-5 run to assume a 54-51 lead midway through the second half following 1 of Klassen’s 3 triples on the night. In the mist of the Point Loma outburst, the Cougars were suffering a mental meltdown, committing 4 of their 11 second-half turnovers.
“It was sloppy tonight, but we came up with the right plays at the right moment,” said Johnson. “We got away from being solid on defense and getting stops, but when we got out and were able to run, it was hard for them to keep up.”
Stafford calmed the turbulent waters with his only 3-pointer which knotteed the game at 54-all, the first of 5 tied scores over the next 6 minutes of play. The Cougars, who closed the first half with a 10-0 run, again took advantage of a tiring set of Sea Lions, and went on an 11-0 run with less than 5 minutes left in the game. Johnson and Stafford each scored 4 points, with a Stafford lay-up capping the run that put Azusa Pacific up 77-66 with 1:52 left remaining.
“I was actually pleased with our effort,” added Leslie. “I thought we played hard tonight, it was just sloppy. We did not take care of the basketball, and were way too flippant with it. We didn’t value possession.”
For the 17th time in the past 20 games, the Cougars out-rebounded their foe, beating Point Loma on the glass 37-32. Senior center Reggie Owens led the way with a game-high 9 rebounds to go along with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. His back-up, senior De’Angelo Riley, collected 6 rebounds and tossed in 12 points off the bench.
The Cougars continually attacked the basket which resulted in 38 free throw attempts, 28 of which they made. Both Stafford and Marshall out-shot Point Loma at the line, with each wing going 9-for-10 at the charity stripe while the Sea Lions were 9-for-14 as a team.
“Point Loma is a tough team to play against,” said Leslie. “We had to do our work around the bucket, but we showed some toughness in continuing to get to the basket.”
Now 21-3 on the season, Azusa Pacific is sporting its best record since the 2006 Cougars won 23 of their first 26 games. In GSAC play the Cougars improve to 12-2.
Point Loma, which was paced by Beal’s 19 points and Klassen’s 15, falls to 12-11 overall, 8-6 in GSAC play.
The Cougars stay home to host California Baptist on Tuesday (Feb. 8) in what will the last GSAC game ever between the 2 teams. The Lancers are leaving the GSAC and the NAIA following this season and moving their membership to NCAA Division II beginning next year.