IRVINE, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific couldn’t survive Concordia’s hot start in Saturday’s Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals in Irvine, falling behind by more than 20 points in the opening half of an 85-62 defeat Saturday night.
Concordia scored 30 points in the game’s first nine minutes to race out to a 30-9 lead on a Tommy Granado layup, and by halftime Azusa Pacific was only able to narrow the gap to 17 points. Not helping the Cougars’ cause was a 19-turnover performance, which led to Concordia’s 21-6 edge in points off turnovers.
“The story of the season was turnovers, and that was it again tonight,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “It was a worst-case scenario of passing. It wasn’t just that we turned the ball over, but it was the type of turnovers that led directly to scores. They didn’t pressure us that much or take it from us, we just passed them the ball.”
The offensive bright spot for Azusa Pacific was the play of All-GSAC point guard Robert Sandoval, who scored a team-high 17 points on eight-of-13 shooting from the field, including an 11-point opening half when he hit five-of-six shots. Junior guard B.J. Porter also hit a pair of first-half treys, and junior forward Tyler Monroe added 11 points for the Cougars.
However, Concordia had five players in double figures, led by GSAC Player of the Year Cameron Gliddon, who scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, while Granada scored his 12 points on six-of-seven shooting from the field. The Eagles shot 59 percent (19-for-32) in the first half, hitting half of their 12 three-point attempts to take a commanding 45-28 halftime lead.
Gliddon’s first trey of the game capped a 14-4 game-opening run, and after Porter answered with a trey that cut the Eagles’ lead to seven, Concordia reeled off a 16-2 run to take a 30-9 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
“Those 30 points in nine minutes was just an absolute blitz,” Leslie said. “Concordia made plays when they had a low shot clock and nowhere to go. Guys like Austin Simon, Cameron Gliddon, and Tommy Granado, they all scored big baskets for Concordia, and they made plays when they had a low shot clock and nowhere to go. When you get in that type of situation and they’re making plays, I’ve just got to take my hat off to them.”
In the second half, the Cougars got as close as 12 points after an 11-3 run trimmed the margin to 57-45 with 10:32 remaining in the contest. However, Edward Willis scored back-to-back three-point plays to extend the lead back out to 18 points, and Concordia led by 16 or more the rest of the way.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 24-8 overall, while Concordia moves on to host Biola in the GSAC Tournament championship game next Tuesday night. Because Concordia won the regular-season crown outright and is playing in the conference championship game, Biola becomes the recipient of the GSAC’s second automatic bid into the NAIA Tournament.
The Cougars, meanwhile, are forced to watch the conclusion of the conference tournaments and then await their standing in next week’s final NAIA Top 25 Coaches Poll, which will be used to determine at-large bids into the 32-team field of the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship in Kansas City, Mo.
“If we’re fortunate enough to make it to Kansas City, we’re going to pay a special effort to taking care of and valuing the basketball,” Leslie said. “We can’t go out and shoot ourselves in the foot like we did tonight. We didn’t defend anywhere near well enough tonight. They made tough shots, but we had plenty of opportunities to get stops and we just didn’t. Except for our turnovers, we got plenty of good shots, but the problem was also that they shot 55 percent.”
Azusa Pacific is seeking its 17th consecutive trip to the NAIA Tournament, and its absence from the GSAC championship game marks just the second conference finals in the past 12 years that doesn’t include the Cougars.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS (filmed & edited by Rob Small)