ONTARIO, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific looked like a team playing its first game in 10 days, falling behind early and responding too late in a 79-66 loss to Cal State Dominguez Hills on the opening day of the two-day Coyote Holiday Classic at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
The Cougars shot just 38 percent (19-for-50) from the field and committed a season-high 22 turnovers, and Cal State Dominguez Hills used a 29-point explosion from Givon Crump to lead by as many as 24 points in the second half before Azusa Pacific closed the gap late.
“There’s not a switch that can be turned off and on,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “Either you’re ready to play or you’re not.”
The Cougars take on tournament host Cal State San Bernardino on Tuesday at 7 p.m., in the final game of the two-day classic.
“We’d like to play better, but this is the level we want to be at. We want to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to compete at this level, and the only way we’re going to do that is by playing the games,” said Leslie. “We’ve got an ambitious schedule, and it’s not going to let up; I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Senior guard B.J. Porter scored all of his team-high 16 points in the first half, hitting four first-half three-pointers to keep Azusa Pacific within striking distance after a difficult start that found the Cougars chasing a six-point deficit before scoring its first points of the game.
“We had no sense of urgency to start the game on the defensive side and got ourselves in a big hole,” Leslie said. “I have to give them credit, though, because they took the fight straight to us right from the get-go and exposed our youth.”
After Porter hit two-of-three free throws with 5:45 left in the first half to cut the margin to 31-24, Cal State Dominguez Hills went on an 11-3 run over the next four minutes to extend its lead to 15 points, 42-27.
“If BJ hadn’t shown up for us in the first half, we’d have been down by 25,” Leslie said. “We were fortunate to be within striking distance at that point.”
That led the Toros to a 12-point halftime edge (44-32), and they opened the second half with a 13-2 run that widened the gap to a 23-point margin (57-44) less than four minutes into the second half. The Cougars never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“What I was most disappointed with was how we came out and started each half,” Leslie said. “At the start of the second half, the quality of their looks was way too good.”
Azusa Pacific’s leading scorer on the year, sophomore guard Troy Leaf, scored all seven of his points in the opening half. All but eight points of the Cougars’ second-half scoring came off the bench, with sophomore guard Kevin Stafford scoring eight points to lead the rest of the Cougar offense aside from Porter. Nick Price and Tyler Goldston added seven points and six points, respectively, and freshman forward Will Ward pulled down a game-high seven rebounds.
Crump’s 29-point effort was a season-high for the junior transfer from Baylor, who knocked down nine-of-13 shots from the field including four-of-six three-pointers, and he too was his team’s lone double-digit scorer. DeShaun Freeman contributed nine points with seven rebounds, and Lamine Diame also registered nine points to help lead the Toro offense.
“We aren’t going to hang our heads; we got beat tonight. They played a good game and beat us, and we’re going to learn from it,” said Leslie. “It’s only one game, but there’s a lot we can learn out of this one game. We’re going to come out and be ready to compete tomorrow; we’re going to play hard tomorrow.”
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 4-3 overall, while Cal State Dominguez Hills improves to 6-5.