SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- Junior guard B.J. Porter scored a game-high 23 points, and a host of others helped the NAIA's No. 24-ranked Azusa Pacific to its second straight road win with an 82-67 victory at The Master's Tuesday night.
The Cougars, who hadn't won in Bross Gym since 2007, also picked up their first back-to-back GSAC road wins since its first two this season, and the win puts Azusa Pacific squarely into the midst of a four-team tie for second place in the Golden State Athletic Conference standings heading into this weekend's regular-season finale. The Cougars host No. 21-ranked Westmont Saturday, with the winner of that game assuring itself home-court advantage in the first round of the GSAC Postseason Tournament.
“The playoffs are here now,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “This was a playoff game tonight, and the one coming up with Westmont will be one too. There’s a lot on the line, and out of this four-team tie, it’s likely that one of the four of us will not go to Kansas City. This Saturday will go a long way towards figuring out who that is.”
While Porter shredded the nets to tie his season-high with five three-pointers, four of them coming in a 16-point first half, sophomore point guard Robert Sandoval turned in an eight-point, 10-assist effort, while senior forward Anthony Johnson added a 13-point, 12-rebound double-double. Sandoval tied his assists season-high, and Johnson’s rebound total was also a season-best. Sophomore forward Christian Katuala came off the bench to add a season-high 13 points and five rebounds. After giving up its second-lowest single-game turnover total Saturday in a six-point win at San Diego Christian, the Cougars committed just three turnovers in the first half of Tuesday’s victory.
“I think how hard we played at the end of Saturday’s win at San Diego Christian carried over into the first half tonight,” Leslie said. “Start to finish, this was as good a game as we’ve played in a long time, and to do it on the road is a huge statement to ourselves. It’s really a pretty simple game plan at this point in the year. Teams have been able to scout us, and we’ve scouted our opponents, and at this point it’s a matter of who wants it more. Taking charges and getting loose balls can make all the difference between winning and losing in the GSAC.”
Azusa Pacific, which entered the game ranked seventh in the GSAC in free throw percentage, canned 23-of-26 (89 percent) at the line, including seven-of-eight from Katuala, who entered the game hitting 52 percent from the charity stripe. The Cougars also committed only three first-half turnovers (13 total) while winning the rebounding battle, 35-30.
The Master's knocked down back-to-back three-pointers on its first two possessions, but after that the Cougars took over. Porter's first trey capped a 12-3 run that answered the Mustangs' opening flurry, and Azusa Pacific hit three more from long range to cap a 16-4 run that gave the Cougars their first double-digit lead of the game (28-17) midway through the first half.
“Top to bottom, it was a really solid performance for our team,” Leslie said. “Christian just went to work down low and got to the foul line. That really softened things up and allowed us to score more in the paint and be more aggressive. We spaced the floor well in the first half, and it allowed us to make a lot of easy passes. We totally forced the tempo and had everything we wanted in that first half.”
Azusa Pacific led by 12 at the half, 44-32, shooting 50 percent (14-for-28) from the field with six three-pointers. After The Master's cut the lead in half to 46-40 in the opening minutes of the second half, the Cougars went on an 18-6 run that chewed up nearly 10 minutes of second-half clock. That run included a stretch of eight minutes during which The Master's made just one field goal.
Leif Karlberg was the leading Mustang scorer, finishing with 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Anthony Cammon, who scored 24 points with six assists in the first meeting between the teams this year, was limited to 11 points on four-of-12 shooting from the field.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 22-7 overall, 11-6 GSAC, while The Master's falls to 17-12 overall, 9-8 GSAC.