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AZUSA, Calif. -- If Tuesday’s season opener was a snapshot of Azusa Pacific’s style of play, then Friday’s 71-64 victory over Alaska-Anchorage provided a glimpse at the type of courage the 2011-12 Cougars are capable of when the chips are down.
Senior guard Marshall Johnson and junior guard B.J. Porter drilled back-to-back three-pointers on consecutive possessions after Azusa Pacific had fallen behind by four with just over six minutes to play. Less than two minutes later, senior forward Anthony Johnson converted a three-point play to break a 60-60 tie, and the Cougars never trailed again.
Although it was an exhibition game that counted on neither team’s overall record, the matchup between the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific and a program rated in the top 20 of two separate NCAA Division II polls felt as though there was plenty at stake.
Alaska-Anchorage, rated 12th in the nation by the Division II Bulletin and 17th in the NABC Division II Preseason Top 25 Coaches Poll, was led by a 20-point, eight-rebound performance from its preseason All-American, center Taylor Rohde, who scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. Rohde made one-of-two free throws with 7:28 to play to give the Seawolves their largest lead of the contest at 56-52, then put his team back up by four with 6:06 left.
That’s when Azusa Pacific regained control with their outside shooting, and the Cougars found their stroke at the free-throw line, hitting their final 10 attempts down the stretch from the charity stripe to seal the victory. The Cougar defense, which created 16 turnovers that led to a 21-10 edge in points off turnovers, held Alaska-Anchorage to just six points on only one field goal over the final six minutes of the game.
Marshall Johnson led Azusa Pacific with 15 points, hitting five-of-10 from the field with three treys, and three others were in double figures. Porter, who blocked two shots, also hit three from long range in a 12-point effort, and Anthony Johnson and senior guard Brandon Dunson registered 10 points each for the Cougars, who led by six at halftime, 36-30.
Azusa Pacific, which is 1-0 on the season after opening the campaign with a 92-57 victory over La Sierra earlier in the week, continues a challenging three-game stretch of NCAA Division II opponents. Up next is a pair of road games at Lewis (Ill.) and Grand Valley State. The Lewis game will count on Azusa Pacific’s record, although Grand Valley State serves as the Cougars’ second exhibition game of the year.