LAIE, Hawai‘i -- After holding off Azusa Pacific Monday night, BYU-Hawaii can breathe a little easier knowing that its 77-69 win over the Cougars has clinched the Seasiders’ place in the Pacific West Conference Tournament in early March.
The road to the postseason for Azusa Pacific became significantly tougher, however, as the Cougars fell to 2-5 in PacWest road games and now must win three of its final four in the regular season to qualify for the National Christian College Athletic Association regional playoffs. As a school still transitioning into NCAA Division II, Azusa Pacific is currently unable to participate in NCAA postseason play, which begins with the PacWest Tournament March 7-9.
Midway through the second half, with Azusa Pacific leading by one at 48-47, BYU-Hawaii grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds that led to Bracken Funk’s go-ahead jumper in the paint that gave the Seasiders a 49-48 lead with 10:14 remaining.
“We weren’t smart down the stretch,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “It’s a tough place to play, and we didn’t close it out. We had the opportunity, but we didn’t do it. They got some offensive rebounds and some fifty-fifty loose balls all in one possession, and we never got over that hump. As soon as that point hit, we continued to play hard but we stopped playing smart.”
The Cougars tied it one more time down the stretch when Kevin Stafford hit a three-pointer with 8:01 left to even the score at 53-53, and Troy Leaf and B.J. Porter hit back-to-back three-pointers that kept Azusa Pacific within two points as the game worked down to the four-minute mark.
However, both treys were answered with corresponding treys from BYU-Hawaii guard Okesene Ale, who had missed 12 of his first 13 shots from the field up until that point. The second three from Ale sparked an 11-2 run that gave the Seasiders an 11-point lead, 72-61, with 1:21 remaining. DeAndre Medlock’s dunk of a missed Brody Berry layup closed out the run, and Azusa Pacific got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Stafford, Leaf, and Porter were three of Azusa Pacific’s four players who reached double figures in scoring. Leaf led the Cougars with 15 points, Porter added 12, and Stafford finished with 10, and redshirt freshman Jared Zoller added a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. Zoller’s 10 boards were a career-high, and redshirt freshman Sharif Watson also tied his own career rebounding high with 12 boards, although the Cougars were still out-rebounded by a 40-36 margin.
“They really made a point of limiting B.J.’s touches,” Leslie said. “They did a nice job of that and made life difficult on him. A game like this for Jared and Sharif is a nice growth step for both of them. We’re very close, and we just have to get over that hump.”
BYU-Hawaii’s Pablo Coro knocked down five three-pointers to lead all scorers with 18 points, and Brady Hurst came off the bench for 14 points to lead the Seasiders. Both Coro and Hurst scored 12 each in the first half, holding Azusa Pacific’s halftime edge to just two points, 38-36. Ale, who was 1-for-13 from the field before hitting the two second-half three-pointers that kept BYU-Hawaii in front down the stretch, ended up finishing with 13 points on the night.
In the first half, five different scorers contributed to an 11-0 outburst that turned a four-point deficit into Azusa Pacific’s largest lead of the game, a 22-15 edge with 9:23 left in the half. Coro dropped in a pair of threes from the corner, sparking a 13-4 run for BYU-Hawaii that temporarily turned the tide, but Leaf scored five points in the final 2:07 of the half to give the Cougars a 38-36 halftime advantage.
The loss dropped Azusa Pacific to 10-12 overall and 7-7 in PacWest play, while BYU-Hawaii is now 13-10 overall and 10-5 in conference play. The Seasiders are assured of a spot in the top six of the conference’s non-transitioning programs, thus clinching a spot in the six-team Pacific West Conference Tournament which is hosted by Azusa Pacific March 7-9.
The Cougars take on Chaminade Thursday night in Honolulu before switching islands to visit the University of Hawai‘i Hilo Saturday evening on the Big Island.