FRESNO, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific ran out of gas as it wrapped up a stretch of five games over the past 11 days with a road visit to one of the Pacific West Conference’s hottest teams, a fresher Fresno Pacific squad that surged ahead late in the first half to hand the Cougars a 93-67 defeat Saturday evening.
John Taylor scored the final points before and the first points after halftime, and he ended up scoring a game-high 35 points on a brilliant 14-for-23 shooting performance for Fresno Pacific, which improved to 11-0 at home and has now won eight of its last nine since being blown out while visiting Azusa Pacific in early January.
Azusa Pacific was led by senior guard B.J. Porter, who scored a team-high 17 points and hit four-of-nine three-pointers, but he was the only starter who scored more than four points for the Cougars, who visited Fresno Pacific for their third game this week and fifth in the past 11 days. The Sunbirds, meanwhile, haven’t had a three-game week within the conference schedule and had played just twice in the 10 days leading up to Saturday’s game.
Sophomore guard Kevin Stafford added 10 points off the bench, but with leading scorer Troy Leaf unavailable due to an undisclosed injury, Azusa Pacific did everything it could to keep up with Fresno Pacific’s high-powered offense until the Sunbirds put together an 8-0 run over the final 3:23 of the first half to break a 33-33 tie.
“We guarded and rebounded fairly well until that point, but by that time the tempo was already in their favor and we couldn't get it back,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “They played well, and being short-handed we didn't have much margin for error. We have to look forward to our next week of practice and focus on getting better as we head into our next road trip.”
The Cougars managed to keep pace for the first five minutes of the second half, staying within 12 points when Christian Katuala’s layup cut the Fresno Pacific lead to 54-42. That’s when the Sunbirds put the game away, scoring 12 straight points to double the margin to 24 points at 66-42 with 12:07 to play. Taylor scored seven of the 12 points in the run, and he hit another one of his five three-pointers during a 10-0 spurt late in the game that gave the Sunbirds a 37-point lead, its largest of the game, with 4:18 to play.
Despite Fresno Pacific holding a lead of at least 24 points over the final 11:31, Taylor still played 17 minutes in the second half, racking up 26 of his 35 points after halftime, and 14 of his points came with the Sunbirds holding a lead of over 20 points. He finally rested after his final points of the game pushed Fresno Pacific over 90 points for the eighth consecutive game.
With all seven of its bench players seeing at least 10 minutes of playing time in the game, Azusa Pacific finished the game on a 15-4 run with Stafford scoring eight of his 10 points in the final four minutes to cut the final margin to 93-67.
Fresno Pacific posted a 42-30 rebounding edge, led by Antonio Credit’s 13-point, 10-rebound double-double, and the Sunbirds posted a 25-0 shutout in fast break points.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 9-11 overall and 6-6 in Pacific West Conference play, while Fresno Pacific improves to 15-7 overall and 10-4 in the PacWest. The Cougars return to action in a week, when they start a four-game road trip to Hawai‘i with a Saturday, Feb. 16 visit to Hawai‘i Pacific.