AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific couldn’t slow down Academy of Art University in the second half Monday night, as the Urban Knights scored 59 points in the second half to pick up a 97-92 road win over the Cougars, who suffered just their second home defeat in Pacific West Conference play.
Sophomore guard Troy Leaf scored a game- and season-high 31 points, while senior guard B.J. Porter tied his season-high with 24 points, but it wasn’t enough to get past Academy of Art, which shot 61 percent (17-of-28) from the field in the second half and got a team-high 25 points off the bench from Alex Carmon.
“That was one of the poorest defensive efforts I’ve seen out of our team in a long time,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “We consistently gave them easy looks. It wasn’t fast-paced – the number of possessions and shots wasn’t high; what was high were the shooting percentages.”
The Urban Knights took the lead for good with a 16-8 run over a six-and-a-half minute stretch early in the second half, and they knocked down 21-of-24 second-half free throws, including 10 in a row in the final minute of the game, to keep Azusa Pacific at arm’s length. Carmon had six of the final eight for Academy of Art, all on free throws, and he scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half. Ameer Shamsud-din added 24 points for the Urban Knights, who won for just the second time in 12 games away from home this year.
“Academy of Art likes to play that way – they like to go out there and score points,” Leslie said. “We’ve been having success for the exact opposite reason, by lowering our opponents’ shooting percentage and having a significant rebounding advantage. Those two things couldn’t have been farther from what happened out there, and it just killed us.”
After falling behind by six points with 4:27 left in the first half, Leaf converted a four-point play by knocking down a three-pointer and subsequent free throw when he was fouled on the shot. That cut the lead to 36-34 and sparked an 11-2 run which gave the Cougars a 41-38 halftime edge, and Porter posted up for a short layup on the opening second-half possession to push the lead to five, 43-38. That turned out to be Azusa Pacific’s largest lead of the game, as Rodrigo Maza answered on back-to-back trips down the floor for easy buckets underneath to set the tone for the Urban Knights’ high-scoring second half.
“We lost this game in the first half, because we let them hang around when we had the opportunity to make the game ours, and we didn’t do it,” Leslie said. “I told the team to start the half that I didn’t really care if we made a basket, I wanted to get stops, and that didn’t happen from the get-go.”
Academy of Art scored 39 of its 59 points after halftime either in the paint or at the free throw line, and although Azusa Pacific also shot well from the field, hitting 15-of-26 (58 percent) in the second half, the Cougars were just over 60 percent (23-for-38) on free throws in the game.
After Academy of Art took control early in the second half, Azusa Pacific twice closed the gap to just one point, the last time with 6:44 to play when Porter answered three Carmon free throws with one of his five three-pointers in the game to trim the Urban Knights’ lead to 73-72. However, Shamsud-din knocked down a three-pointer to spark an 11-3 run over three-and-a-half minutes to stretch the lead to 84-75 with 3:05 left in the game.
The Cougars scored 10 of the next 13 points, thanks to three-pointers from Jared Zoller, Kevin Stafford, and Leaf, whittling the lead back down to two points, 87-85, with one minute remaining. Shamsud-din was fouled on a drive to the hoop, and he nailed his free throws, the first of 10 straight for Academy of Art in the final minute of play to seal the victory.
Zoller finished with 12 points, tying his season-high, and Bert Hall came off the bench to score eight points with a game-high nine rebounds. The Cougars committed only 11 turnovers, their fourth-lowest in a game this season, but those giveaways turned into 16 points for Academy of Art, which itself accounted for only nine turnovers that resulted in seven Azusa Pacific points off turnovers.
The Urban Knights also posted a 35-28 rebounding advantage, the first time in five games the Cougars lost the battle on the boards. Four of the five starters for Academy of Art pulled down at least five rebounds, including Shamsud-din, who gathered five rebounds and dished out three assists without a turnover. Maza finished with 12 points and six rebounds, and Aaron Anderson tallied nine points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals without a turnover.
“Our players don’t have any choice but to respond,” Leslie said. “We need to step up, compete, and defend our home court. When you lose a game, you have to rebound and get yourself ready to play the next one.”
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 8-10 overall and 5-5 in PacWest play, while Academy of Art solidified its spot within the top six of the PacWest’s NCAA postseason-eligible programs. The Urban Knights, who improve to 7-11 overall and 5-6 in PacWest, return home for five of their final seven regular-season games as they seek a bid in the six-team field of the inaugural PacWest Tournament, which will be hosted by Azusa Pacific March 7-9.
The Cougars host Dominican on Wednesday night to wrap up the four-game homestand, which is followed by five consecutive road games that includes a four-game trip to the four PacWest schools in Hawai‘i.