AZUSA, Calif. -- All 12 points of Azusa Pacific’s game-changing 12-0 second-half run came off turnovers, and the Cougar defense forced 28 turnovers in all in a 74-54 win over University of Victoria (B.C.) Friday night. The victory was Azusa Pacific’s fifth in a row, and it was the Cougars’ fourth straight win over a Canadian institution.
“We got better with every game this week,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “Victoria is a good team, so forcing them into 28 turnovers by playing the type of team defense we did really helped us dictate most everything in the game on both sides of the floor. We have a much clearer picture of what we need to do to be successful on both sides of the ball. Our personnel is starting to have a better feel for what their spots are, and the last two games have been really good.”
After Victoria pulled within a point of Azusa Pacific twice within the first three minutes of the second half, the second time closing the gap to 33-32 with 17:06 remaining in the game, the Cougars forced turnovers on the next six Vikes possessions.
The first led to an Andy Jones three-point play, and Jones had the steal on the next trip down court that eventually led to another three-point play, this time from senior center Anthony Johnson. After Johnson took a charge on the Vikes’ next possession, senior guard Marshall Johnsonknocked down a jumper in the paint. A Justin Haynes steal then resulted in a fast break opportunity for Marshall Johnson, who was fouled intentionally while making his layup. He sank both free throws for the intentional foul, completing a four-point play that transformed what had been a one-point lead into a 45-32 spread in a matter of less than three minutes.
“One of the biggest adjustments that took place this week was the attention to the detail and learning what real toughness on the basketball court looks like,” Leslie said. “That includes things like boxing out, help side defense, rotations, and setting screens, and that attention to detail is where we took a huge step forward this week. As we enter GSAC play, that’s where it’s going to have to be.”
Marshall Johnson led all scorers with 21 points, hitting seven-of-10 shots including both of his three-point attempts. Anthony Johnson was one of three other Cougars in double figures, registering 13 points along with a game-high six rebounds. Junior forward Tyler Monroe scored 14 points, and senior guard Brandon Dunson added 13 points while sharing the game’s assist lead with sophomore point guard Robert Sandoval. Both had five assists, and all five Cougar starters registered steals in the game, with Monroe leading the way with three steals.
“I thought we did a great job of making our own adjustments as the game went on, and we had some guys make some great plays.” Leslie said. “They were taking away the three, but we were able to penetrate and have some good decision making in the lane. Overall, I was really pleased with our effort.”
Azusa Pacific answered both of Victoria’s first two scores, and Dunson completed a three-point play just 2:11 into the game that sparked an 11-2 run that gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good. The Cougars pushed the first-half lead to 10 points after holding Victoria to just three points over an eight-minute stretch midway through the period. The Vikes made just one-of-eight shots during the stretch and committed eight turnovers, the last of which led to a Marshall Johnson jumper that gave Azusa Pacific a 21-11 lead with 6:23 to play in the first half.
Victoria guard Vijay Dhillon’s only basket of the game was a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer that trimmed the Cougars’ halftime lead to 30-25. After Anthony Johnson opened the second-half scoring to extend the lead to 32-25, the Vikes scored six in a row to cut the lead to a single point at 31-30. An Anthony Johnson layup was answered by a pair of free throws, making the score 33-32 to set the stage for Azusa Pacific’s 12-0 run.
“The adjustment at halftime was to make good decisions after forcing turnovers,” Leslie said. “That came down to being mentally tougher in the second half after we had played a little soft in that area in the first half. In the second half, we carried that energy from the defensive side to the offensive side, and that’s more indicative of who we are and how we want to play.”
When Victoria trimmed the lead back to single digits at 45-36 with 12:31 to play, Monroe scored five consecutive points in a quick 7-0 run that got the margin back into double figures for the rest of the game. The Cougars ended the game with a 9-2 run over the final five minutes, making the 20-point final margin its largest lead of the contest.
Michael Acheampong was Victoria’s only double-digit scorer, finishing with 12 points, while all of the 11 other players who participated scored between two and six points. The Vikes also posted a 32-25 rebounding edge.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 11-2, while Victoria, the No. 5-ranked team in CIS (Canada’s national collegiate sports affiliation) wraps up its three-game set of non-conference games against GSAC opponents with a 10-7 overall record heading back into Canada West play.
The Cougars take on Biola in a conference matchup at the Felix Event Center on Tuesday, Jan. 3, as GSAC play resumes.