AZUSA, Calif. -- Dixie State has won three consecutive Pacific West Conference titles, and the Red Storm certainly looked the part in an impressive 85-57 victory over Azusa Pacific Saturday afternoon at the Felix Event Center.
Late in the first half, Dixie State broke the game open with 16 straight points in a stretch lasting just over four minutes, turning a three-point edge into a 40-21 margin with 2:40 remaining until halftime. Andy Jones scored as time expired in the first half, cutting the Red Storm halftime lead to 13 points at 44-31, and the Cougars twice cut the lead to single digits early in the second half before a 9-0 burst that took less than two minutes pushed Dixie State out to an 18-point lead.
“They beat us in every aspect of the game – offensively, they did some subtle things that completely flustered us, and defensively, they completely got us out of what we were trying to do,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said following Azusa Pacific’s first Pacific West Conference defeat. “You pick the spot, and they beat us at it. They only missed six free throws, and they got the rebound on three of their six misses – it was that bad of a beating. They’re the defending (conference) champion, they’ve won it three years in a row, and that’s why – they’re mature, and they gave a solid team effort on both sides of the floor.”
Led by Zach Robbins’ 15-point, nine-rebound performance, along with a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds from McKay Massey, the Red Storm imposed their will inside, posting a 48-31 rebounding advantage as well as a 22-12 edge in second-chance points. Defensively, they held Azusa Pacific’s top two scorers, Troy Leaf and B.J. Porter, to a combined 24 points on eight-of-26 shooting from the field.
“We’ve played bigger teams and been okay, but the problem for us wasn’t the size so much as how solid they were,” Leslie said. “With most teams, you make contact with them and you can go get the rebound; when we made contact, they kept coming. They had a bunch of second effort plays, and they got a lot of those 50/50 rebounds that they just wanted more. That’s what got them going in their first-half run, and they really just got away.”
The defeat was Azusa Pacific’s first in conference play, dropping the Cougars to 3-1 in PacWest play and 6-6 overall, while Dixie State now owns the league’s longest winning streak at four games. The Red Storm, who are now 11-4 overall and 6-1 in the PacWest, have given consecutive opponents their first conference loss after dealing Grand Canyon a 71-66 setback Thursday night followed by today’s win over Azusa Pacific for its first PacWest loss.
Leaf led all scorers with a game-high 17 points, hitting three of the Cougars’ five three-point makes, and he also shared the team rebounding lead with Sharif Watson at six rebounds. Leaf’s second trey of the game capped a 13-2 run across both halves and brought Azusa Pacific within eight points, 44-36, with 17:42 remaining in the game, and just over a minute later he hit his third to answer back-to-back Red Storm buckets to cut the deficit back into single digits at 48-39 with 16:24 to play.
Massey hit a pair of threes in Dixie State’s ensuing 9-0 run, and later in the half the Red Storm put the game out of reach with a 21-6 run that resulted in the largest lead of the game, 80-50, with 3:05 left. Massey added a game-high five assists to his team-high scoring effort, and Curtis Papenfuss, who drilled back-to-back threes and scored eight consecutive points in the 16-0 first-half run, finished with 15 points off the bench.
“I actually thought we defended pretty well (early on), and the majority of that defense was stopping the guards from getting in the paint early,” Leslie said. “When their guards got in the paint, they were able to get our defense in a bad spot. Once they made that little run, there were only a couple of small stretches where we were able to keep them out of the paint. I give their guards a lot of credit, because they played a great game.”
Azusa Pacific returns to action with a Tuesday, Jan. 15 visit to California Baptist in the first of three straight road games for the Cougars.