AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific got itself back on track just in time to resume Pacific West Conference play, shutting down the conference's leading scorer while hitting over 50 percent from three-point range in an 88-67 win over Fresno Pacific Saturday afternoon at the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars caught fire in the second half, hitting 11-for-15 from beyond the arc, including four which came during an 18-0 blitz that put the game out of reach late in the second half. Senior guard B.J. Porter and sophomore guard Tyler Goldston hit four each from long range, leading the way to a 55-point second half, its most productive offensive half so far this season, and the Cougars finished the game 14-of-26 (54 percent) on three-pointers.
“While we were immature and young in our last game, I went back and told the team that no matter who we’ve played, we’ve shown that we can play with every one of our opponents,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “The issue has been whether we would have the poise to do the little things consistently to put ourselves in games. Today, defensively, by far was our most consistent effort. When we get stops, the ball starts falling a lot easier, so I think that was a big key for us.”
Azusa Pacific led by five at halftime, 33-28, expanding the lead to 14 points at 53-39 with a 14-5 run in which Justin Jones, Leaf, Porter, and Goldston each hit three-pointers. With just under eight minutes left in the game, Fresno Pacific countered with back-to-back treys from Malcolm Griffin and Matt Samuels, trimming the Cougar lead to just seven points, 65-58, with 7:31 to play.
That’s when Goldston set off the game-clinching run, scoring the first three of 18 consecutive points for Azusa Pacific, which also got three-pointers from Kevin Stafford and Porter during the run. Freshman forward Will Ward also had a pair of putbacks in the outburst, with nine of the 18 points in the run coming on second-chance points. Another Stafford triple capped the run, which put the Cougars in front, 83-58, with just 2:52 remaining.
“It was all about second-chance points,” Leslie said. “That was a really big stretch for us to get those putbacks. We had good floor balance and stayed true to what we were trying to execute out there, and that’s what really presented those opportunities. That second-half surge was huge.”
Porter and sophomore guard Troy Leaf scored 16 points each to lead Azusa Pacific, which featured five players scoring in double figures, and they held Fresno Pacific guard John Taylor, the PacWest scoring leader, to just 13 points on four-of-18 shooting from the field.
Taylor, whose scoring average entering the game was 23.6 points per game, was unable to connect on any of his 10 three-point attempts, part of a cold start for Fresno Pacific, which missed its first 15 three-point attempts before going seven-of-12 down the stretch in the second half. Malcolm Griffin picked up the Sunbirds’ scoring slack, knocking down three treys in the second half to finish with 22 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
“We wanted to make sure to lower the percentages on their shots and not put them on the free throw line,” Leslie said. “Griffin had 22 points but it took him 20 shots to do it; Taylor had 13 points on 18 shots. Troy Leaf, on the other hand, scored 16 points but he only took eight shots. We tried to be more efficient offensively.”
In the first half, Azusa Pacific got early three-pointers from Porter and Goldston to quickly gain the lead for good. The margin hovered between three and seven points for a stretch of over seven minutes before Leaf hit a pair of free throws and a three-pointer to cap a 9-2 run that resulted in the Cougars’ first double-digit lead of the game at 25-15.
The Sunbirds answered with nine straight, cutting the lead to just a point at 25-24 with 4:15 to play in the half, but Bert Hall scored the last four of his 10 first-half points in the final three minutes to help Azusa Pacific to a 33-28 halftime lead.
“We had 12 turnovers in the first half and scored 33 points; we only had four turnovers in the second half and we scored 55 points,” Leslie said. “You have to value the ball and defend, and it seems like it’s easier to concentrate when you’re at home. That’s one of those things we just have to understand – that we have to make that decision to come out and play consistently and approach every game like it is the biggest game of the year.”
Joining Porter and Leaf in double figures were Hall, with his 10 points all coming in the first half, along with Goldston (12 points) and Ward (10 points). Stafford added eight points, and 11 different Cougars registered in the scoring column as all 16 players who suited up saw action in the game. Six different players made at least one three-pointer, and Sharif Watson and Andy Jones led Azusa Pacific to a 44-38 rebounding edge with a team-high seven boards each. Watson also registered a pair of blocked shots.
“The biggest difference of the game was knowing that although they were really talented in that first bunch, they weren’t that deep,” Leslie said. “As the game went on, as long as we didn’t dig ourselves into a hole, we knew we would get opportunities because we would be fresher.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 2-0 in PacWest play while bringing its overall record to 5-5. Fresno Pacific falls to 7-6 overall and 2-3 in the PacWest, and the Sunbirds drop to 2-6 away from home.
The game was the first of three Saturday afternoon PacWest matchups for the Cougars this year, with Dixie State (Jan. 12) and Notre Dame de Namur (Feb. 2) both set to visit Azusa Pacific for 3 p.m. starts later this season. The final Saturday of the regular season is an 8 p.m. start against Grand Canyon.
The Cougars return to action with the third of four consecutive home games when they host Point Loma on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 7:30 p.m.