AZUSA, Calif. -- South Dakota Mines hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions within the final two minutes, rallying from a four-point deficit to hand Azusa Pacific a 61-59 defeat Wednesday night at the Felix Event Center.
Senior guard B.J. Porter scored a game-high 18 points, all from beyond the three-point arc, including four in the second half, but South Dakota Mines drilled six-of-seven second-half three-pointers despite hitting just two-of-nine from long range in the first half after entering the game hitting just 31 percent on three-pointers for the season.
Four different players for the Hardrockers hit the only three-pointers they attempted, with Calvin Thomas hitting two-of-two, his second which pulled the Hardrockers within a point at 59-58 with 1:37 left in the game. Denis Dobkowski-Rylko had only attempted 10 three-pointers all year, but he drilled the game-winning trey, his only make of the night, with 46 seconds remaining.
“South Dakota Mines had already played eight road games coming into here, so they’d been tested, and they went from shooting 31 percent (on three-pointers) on the year to six-for-seven in the second half,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “They made some tough shots, but we had our opportunities to put them away. They got too many cheap ones under the basket in the closing stretch, and we got really tight and didn’t close it out well at all.”
Sophomore guard Troy Leaf added 17 points, 11 of them in the second half, but no other Cougar scored more than five points. South Dakota Mines gained the rebounding edge, as well, by a 31-28 margin, but the Hardrockers didn’t allow Azusa Pacific any second-chance points.
“This team has all the talent to make it happen, but they’re kids and they’re immature,” Leslie said. “We had poor possessions on offense and we didn’t defend well. We’ve got a long ways to go, and this team has to learn that it’s going to be this hard every night.”
Still, the Cougars extended a four-point halftime lead into a 13-point margin, its largest of the game, within the first eight minutes of second-half play. Lucas Nolan, who entered the game 0-for-13 from three-point range on the season, knocked down his first triple of the year to cut the Azusa Pacific lead to 28-27, but Porter quickly answered with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. Porter’s trey sparked a 15-3 run that included six points from Leaf to extend the lead to a game-high 13 points at 43-30 with 12:39 to play.
Another Leaf layup one minute later kept the margin in double digits at 45-33, but James Dean drained two three-pointers as South Dakota Mines stormed back with 10 straight points that cut the deficit to 45-43 with 8:49 remaining. The Cougars still managed to hang onto the lead up until the final minute before Dobkowski-Rylko’s game-winner.
The Cougars had rallied from an 11-point deficit midway through the first half, closing the half on a 17-2 run over the final 10 minutes. Early in the first half, senior guard Justin Jones hit an off-balance jumper in the lane to pull Azusa Pacific within 7-6, but the Cougars surrendered a 13-3 run that allowed South Dakota Mines to extend the lead to 20-9 with 10:22 remaining.
“There was nothing right about the start for us – there was no energy,” Leslie said. “They passed the ball around and did whatever they wanted whether we played man or zone – it didn’t make a difference what we did. When we don’t defend, we don’t score; that’s just a simple fact. I challenged them because that start was embarrassing. It was not indicative of who we are or what we were trying to do, and I give the team credit, because they responded from there.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Goldston scored on consecutive possessions to give Azusa Pacific the lead for good, hitting a pair of free throws with 2:25 left to close the gap to 22-21 before scoring on a layup with 1:57 remaining to push the Cougars in front, 23-22. After sophomore forward Andy Jones took a charge with three seconds left on the shot clock on the Hardrockers’ final first-half possession, Porter knocked down a three-pointer from the corner with just three seconds left to send Azusa Pacific into halftime with a 26-22 lead.
The contest wraps up the non-conference portion of the Cougars’ non-conference schedule, as the final 17 games of the regular-season schedule are against Pacific West Conference competition. Azusa Pacific already owns a win over Point Loma in last month’s conference opener, but the Cougars went 3-5 in eight games of non-conference play, winning two of seven against other NCAA Division II programs.
“Frankly, I’m scared to death. This next stretch of four games is just vicious,” Leslie said. “We’ve got to step up and defend our home court, because this is a really tough stretch coming up. I said in the preseason that this is the stretch where we’ve got to toughen up and see what we’re made of, and that’s definitely the case for us now.”
With the loss, Azusa Pacific has now dropped three straight to fall to 4-5 on the year, although the Cougars take a 1-0 conference record into Saturday afternoon’s Pacific West Conference matchup at home with Fresno Pacific.