AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific blocked a season-high six shots, all in the first 11 minutes of the game, and the NAIA's No. 7-ranked Cougars used the cushion of the early double-digit lead they built to hang on for a 69-60 Golden State Athletic Conference win over San Diego Christian Friday night.
Junior forward Tyler Monroe registered the first three stuffs to post his seventh multiple-block game of the year, and he scored 14 points with a game-high eight rebounds. Senior guard Brandon Dunson tallied a game-high 16 points, and he added a pair of blocks, while the duo was joined in double figures with a 10-point contribution from senior guard Justin Haynes, who was an efficient four-of-five from the field including two-of-two on three-pointers.
“I loved how Tyler and Justin played down low around the basket,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “I thought that was something we could exploit and take advantage of, but they really didn’t make it easy on us. They really limited our opportunities down there, but the difference tonight was the start we had along with our defensive execution.”
So dominant was the Cougars’ initial defensive presence inside that it took over 10 minutes for San Diego Christian to make its first two-point shot of the game. After Xavier Mylleville missed a short jumper on his team’s opening possession, the Hawks didn’t get another two-point shot attempt past Azusa Pacific until more than eight minutes of the game had passed. During that run, Monroe stuffed Mylleville three straight times on consecutive possessions, and San Diego Christian’s very next possession featured B.J. Porter flying through the lane to swat away a layup attempt.
Azusa Pacific trailed only once, when San Diego Christian's 11-4 run to start the second half was answered by Haynes' second trey, when he spotted up in the left corner as the Hawks defense collapsed on Dunson in the lane. Haynes followed with a nifty steal and finish that featured a no-look pass from Porter to Haynes to finish the fast break and give the Cougars a 41-37 edge with 13:57 remaining.
The Cougars both made and attempted season-highs in three-pointers, hitting 10-of-26 from beyond the arc, and a 9-0 advantage from second-half points off turnovers provided a much-needed lift for an Azusa Pacific squad that registered negligible advantages in shooting percentage, rebounding and paint scoring.
“One of the things I’ve highlighted to this team in the last week and a half is the fact that in conference play, we’re last in the league in steals,” Leslie said. “That’s an indicator that we haven’t been disruptive enough. We’ve tried to emphasize that we have to find some ways to let the defense generate points for us.”
Later in the second half, true freshman guard Kevin Stafford drilled three consecutive three-pointers in a stretch of just over four minutes, pushing the lead to 58-48 with 6:38 to play. The 10-point margin was Azusa Pacific's largest lead after halftime, and San Diego Christian was within one basket only once more the rest of the way. Stafford finished with nine points and a pair of steals.
“We’ve been very inconsistent to start games this year, so anytime we can get a good start we’ll take it,” Leslie said. “Tonight that start gave us a blueprint of what would work, so later in the game there were things we could go back to that we knew were successful.”
A 12-0 run spanning four minutes midway through the first half gave Azusa Pacific a 14-point lead, its largest of the game. Porter hit a pair of three-pointers to start the run, and Monroe’s putback of a missed free throw finished it, giving the Cougars a 21-7 advantage with 10:11 remaining in the first half. San Diego Christian answered with 13 consecutive points, pulling to within 21-20 with 6:40 left, but a Haynes trey kept Azusa Pacific in front before the Cougars closed out the half without allowing a field goal over the final four minutes of the period.
Tim Sanders led San Diego Christian with 15 points and seven rebounds, both team-highs, while Calvin Seaberry provided a spark off the bench with 11 points on five-of-seven shooting, along with four rebounds and a game-high three steals. The Hawks lead the GSAC in three-point shooting percentage, and they hit eight-of-19 (42 percent) from long distance while going just 12-of-31 (39 percent) on two-point field goal attempts.
“Seaberry came in and absolutely changed the game,” Leslie said. “Give San Diego Christian a lot of credit, because in terms of execution, they absolutely played a better game than us. They competed and really made us work for it.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific remains within a game of the GSAC lead, improving to 15-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play. The four-way tie of 5-2 teams for first place will be split Saturday when all four teams at the top of the standings play head-to-head against a GSAC co-leader (Westmont visits Concordia while Point Loma Nazarene plays at The Master's). San Diego Christian falls to 5-10 overall, 1-7 GSAC, and the Hawks remain winless on the road this season.