AZUSA, Calif. -- Five players scored in double figures for the NAIA's No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific in an 88-80 win over NAIA Div. II's No. 8-ranked Embry-Riddle (Fla.) Friday night, and a late defensive push allowed just three field goals over the final eight minutes.
However, the most significant chain of events lasted less than a minute, and it demonstrated everything the Cougars did right in their last non-conference contest before next week's visit to Westmont that kicks off Golden State Athletic Conference play.
After a pair of Embry-Riddle free throws cut Azusa Pacific's lead to four points (77-73) with 2:39 to play, senior guard Justin Haynes created two easy points in transition when he threaded the needle between a pair of defenders that allowed junior forward Tyler Monroe to throw down a dunk that pushed the lead right back to six points with 2:33 left.
After Blake Touchard knocked down a pair of free throws at the other end, again bringing Embry-Riddle to within four points at 79-75, the Cougars worked their next possession all the way down until senior guard Brandon Dunson put a shot up with one tick left on the shot clock. His 16-foot jumper from the right elbow swished through the net as the shot clock expired, sticking a dagger into Embry-Riddle's comeback hopes by pushing the lead back to 81-75 with 1:41 left.
Monroe poked the ball away from Touchard just 10 seconds later, and Dunson ended up getting a steal and a pair of free throws with 1:09 to play to cap a 23-8 second-half run that turned the game around completely.
Other than Jason Powell's uncontested layup in the closing seconds of the game, Embry-Riddle was held to just two field goals over the final eight minutes of the game. During that stretch, the Cougars snagged six steals, pulled down seven offensive rebounds, along with a blocked shot. They took the lead for good when senior forward Anthony Johnson crashed the offensive glass for two second-chance points, sparking a 7-0 run that took less than 45 seconds to turn a one-point deficit into a 77-71 lead with 4:05 to play.
Johnson finished with a team-high 18 points, leading a balanced Cougar effort that featured five players in double figures with two others combining for 14 more. Johnson also collected a game-high 11 rebounds to notch his first double-double of the season, and sophomore point guard Robert Sandoval finished with 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Monroe scored 13 points with six rebounds and a game-high four blocks, Haynes finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, and junior guard B.J. Porter came off the bench for 12 points.
Dunson tallied six points and a game-high six assists, and senior guard Marshall Johnson added eight points for the Cougars, who have won 10 straight and 20 of their last 21 home games.
Embry-Riddle was led by Ray Graham's 22-point, 10-rebound double-double, and Sam Ford scored six points with 10 boards before fouling out with 2:53 to play. Touchard scored 14 points while dishing out a game-high seven assists, and DeForest Carter contributed 16 points, five rebounds, three steals and a block.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 5-1 overall, while Embry-Riddle suffers its third straight defeat to fall to 4-4 on the year.
The Cougars return to action with the GSAC opener at Westmont on Tuesday, Nov. 29.