HONOLULU, Hawai‘i -- There’s little that makes Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie happier than having his team execute defensively, and that’s exactly what the Cougars did against Hawai‘i Pacific in a 65-53 win that opened the four-game Pacific West Conference island road trip Saturday night.
The Cougars, who are now 7-2 when holding their opponent to 64 points or fewer, held Hawai‘i Pacific scoreless for a stretch of almost nine minutes in the second half, making Leslie a very happy man to start his Hawaiian road trip. Azusa Pacific shut down the host Sea Warriors for a second-half stretch lasting almost nine minutes, reeling off 12 consecutive points to take a 53-42 lead with just three minutes left in the game. For the first 17 minutes of the second half, Hawai‘i Pacific managed just 11 points and finished with a 22-point second-half, the lowest second-half scoring allowed by the Cougars all year.
“We had a long day of travel and practiced when we got here, and considering the travel we practiced and prepared really well,” Leslie said. “Today at shootaround we were very well-prepared, and the focus and understanding was as good as we’ve had going into a game this season.”
Sophomore guard Troy Leaf and senior guard B.J. Porter combined for 33 points to lead the Cougars, who shot 39 percent (17-for-44) while controlling the game with just 11 turnovers and a stifling defensive performance that forced Hawai‘i Pacific into an abysmal 29 percent (15-for-52) shooting effort. In the second half, the Cougars surrendered only five field goals, with three of those hitting from behind the three-point line.
“We were just a step ahead,” Leslie said. “We had all of their sets completely nailed, and we were ready to go out there and take away exactly what we wanted to take away. We just did not let them get comfortable offensively at all.”
Leaf scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, and Porter added 16 points and four rebounds for the Cougars, who also got eight points from redshirt freshman Jared Zoller as well as seven-point contributions off the bench from sophomores Andy Jones and Kevin Stafford.
“Troy’s a threat you always have to account for,” Leslie said. “He can make plays off the ball as a spot-up shooter, and when he has the ball in his hands he can score and pass. He’s a tough cover and a tough matchup, so having him back in tonight was good. He and B.J. were really efficient offensively.”
The Cougars jumped out to an 11-point first-half lead, thanks to an early 15-2 run, but Hawai‘i Pacific came roaring back with a 19-2 run before the teams settled for a 31-31 tie at halftime. After Michael Pierce knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to lift the Sea Warriors to a 42-41 edge with 11:30 remaining, the Azusa Pacific defense responded. Over the course of the next nine minutes, Hawai‘i Pacific committed four turnovers and didn’t make a shot during the Cougars’ 12-0 run that turned the game for good.
The victory, which was Azusa Pacific’s second conference road win of the year, lifts the Cougars to 10-11 overall and 7-6 in Pacific West Conference play. Hawai‘i Pacific is now 9-12 overall and 6-8 in the PacWest.
Azusa Pacific’s next game is a Monday evening visit to BYU-Hawaii, which is followed by a Thursday matchup against Chaminade. The trip concludes with a visit to the Big Island next Saturday to take on the University of Hawai‘i Hilo.