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Photo by Joe Reinsch
Sophomore guard Troy Leaf scored a game-high 29 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals in Azusa Pacific's 97-75 home-opening win over Northwest Nazarene.

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November 16, 2012
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Troy Leaf and B.J. Porter hit a combined 10-of-15 three-pointers in a dazzling long-range shooting display as Azusa Pacific ran away in the second half for a 97-75 win over Northwest Nazarene in the Cougars’ home opener.

The victory was Azusa Pacific’s third in a row against an opponent from the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and the backcourt duo of Leaf and Porter combined for another 52 points on the one-week anniversary of their combined 51-point production against Central Washington in a season-opening overtime win.

“What I’m most pleased with is the energy of how the team played together,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “They defended really well, and when we changed defenses the guys stayed energized and active. As a result, you can see the chemistry building, and I’m really encouraged long-term to have a good start to the season.”

Leaf scored a game-high 29, hitting 11-of-14 from the field and five-of-seven from three-point range, and Porter tossed in 23 points on seven-of-10 shooting which included a five-for-eight clip on three-pointers. The pair also combined for half of the Cougars’ 22 assists in a balanced, unselfish offensive performance.

Porter and Leaf each hit their first three-pointers of the game within the first 2:10, and they also combined for the final 10 points of a 13-2 run late in the first half that turned the game around for good. Leaf hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to pull Azusa Pacific even at 38-38 during the run, and Porter was assisted by Leaf for a go-ahead trey that put the Cougars up 41-38 with 1:43 remaining in the first half. Leaf broke a 41-41 tie with his jumper in the paint in the closing seconds of the half, sending Azusa Pacific into halftime with a 43-41 edge.

“When we picked up our energy midway through the first half, the whole game changed around,” Leaf said. “We might have been a little too anxious for our first home game and come out a little bit flat, but once the energy picked up, everything got going.”

At the start of the second half, it was none other than Porter and Leaf who again drilled consecutive three-point daggers within the first 90 seconds of play to spark a 22-6 run over the first 6:30 after halftime. Freshman forward Will Ward scored three straight times in the paint during the run, which also included a set of three Porter free throws when he was fouled in the act of shooting from beyond the arc, as well as a Clay Ragsdale trey. The Cougars led by at least 15 points the rest of the way.

“We had to make some adjustments and changes on both sides of the ball that we hadn’t really anticipated coming into the game,” Leslie said. “We had to do it on the fly, and the team responded really well. They got aggressive and gained confidence, and they played some great unselfish basketball. I was really pleased with our poise.”

Azusa Pacific out-shot and out-rebounded Northwest Nazarene, hitting 57 percent (35-for-62) from the field while posting a 34-30 edge on the boards. Leaf, the game’s leading scorer, was also its top rebounder, finishing with seven rebounds along with five assists and three steals. Porter shared the game-high in assists with senior point guard Justin Jones, each setting up six Cougar baskets on the night.

“It’s fun playing in our offense, where you know that when you give the ball up you’re just going to get it right back,” Porter said. “When you play good basketball, you move it around, and that gets everybody involved.”

Junior forward Christian Katuala scored 15 points on six-of-10 shooting, and Ward recorded 12 points and six rebounds. Sophomore forward Andy Jones turned in a four-point, four-rebound, four-steal effort, and six other players came off the bench and scored points in addition to Ward, who also pulled down six rebounds.

“A third of our shots were taken by our big guys (Katuala and Ward),” Leslie said. “I’d say that’s pretty good balance, and we’re getting looks inside from those two. Those post players are like the run game in football – you’ve got to have something inside, so I’m very pleased with how that’s coming along.”

Northwest Nazarene was led by four players who scored in double figures, including senior guard Kenny Jones, who turned in 13 points. Keith Moilanen scored a team-high 14 points before fouling out, and Jones added a team-high five assists while he himself struggled with his own shooting (4of-17) from the field.

With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 2-1 on the year, while Northwest Nazarene drops to 1-1. The Cougars host Young Harris College next Friday after a week off which includes the Thanksgiving holiday.