SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific did almost everything right in its Pacific West Conference opener at Dominican Thursday night, but the bounces that didn’t go its way ended up costing the Cougars a game in the conference standings when Myles Carrillo stepped back and hit a buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper as time expired in overtime to lift Dominican to a 91-89 victory.
“We battled back and had our opportunities, and it took a ‘Hail Mary’ over what I thought was our best defender in that situation,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “One of the growing pains with this team is that we have to learn how to win these tough games. We need more of this, to keep getting tested and keep learning.”
In addition to his game-winner, Carrillo also knocked down a pair of free throws that tied the game at 79-79 with 16.5 seconds left in regulation to finish off the Penguins’ 11-3 run over the final 2:17 of regulation. Sophomore forward Jared Zoller knocked down a three-pointer with 2:31 to play, extending the Cougars’ lead to eight, 76-68, but Azusa Pacific missed six-of-seven free throws down the stretch as Dominican rallied behind baskets from Carrillo, Connor Haysbert, and Devin Golston.
“We had opportunities to get separation and close it out at the foul line in regulation, and we just didn’t do it,” Leslie said. “I was pleased with our preparation leading into this, and I was surprised by our free throw performance down the stretch. If we make one, maybe two more free throws, we’re here talking about how great it is to get a good win on the road against a good team.”
In overtime, the Penguins erased the Cougars’ 84-81 lead behind a rare four-point play when Matt Hayes came off a screen to knock down a three-pointer that tied the game at 84-84 with just under three minutes left. However, junior guard Kevin Stafford was whistled for a two-shot foul as he fought through the screen, and Haysbert hit one-of-two at the line to give Dominican the one-point edge, 85-84.
Junior point guard Robert Sandoval answered Dominique Taplin’s jumper by knocking down one-of-two free throws with 1:24 left, but Dominican went back up by four, 89-85, on a Golston jumper with a minute to go.
Golston fouled junior guard Troy Leaf on a three-point attempt, and Leaf hit two-of-three, making it a two-point margin with 49 seconds left. The Cougars ended up fouling on the ensuing inbounds pass, which it nearly stole, but Dominican missed both free throws at the other end, giving Leaf an opportunity to put Azusa Pacific ahead with another three-point attempt. Instead, Zoller was fouled rebounding Leaf’s miss off the back iron, and he knocked both down to tie the game at 89-89 with 32 seconds remaining. That set up Carrillo’s heroics for the game-winner on the final possession.
Leaf led all scorers with 23 points, helping Azusa Pacific to a three-point halftime lead, 40-37, with 16 points in the opening half. Sandoval added 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, and senior forward Tyler Monroe posted a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Cougars, who had five players in double figures. Sophomore forward Sharif Watson added 13 points, while Zoller finished with 12 points in 15 minutes of action off the bench.
“I thought we were very focused to start the game,” Leslie said. “We got a good jump on them, but they made adjustments and made some real nice plays. We had some minor breakdowns on simple coverages, and they made us pay each time in the first half. We had lots of opportunities to get some separation, but we just missed them, and that carried through until the end.”
Dominican also featured five players in double figures, although Carrillo (nine points) was not one of them. He finished with nine points while Golston registered team-highs of 18 points and nine rebounds. Haysbert scored 17, Hayes had 16, and Taplin and Christopher Schwartz-Edmisten tallied 14 points each.
“We knew coming into this game that Dominican is a gifted offensive team,” Leslie said. “We knew we had to guard, and we just didn’t guard well enough.”
Both teams shot 60 percent in the second half, hitting an identical 15-of-25 shots from the field, although the Cougars were one-of-five in overtime while Dominican hit four-of-six.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 3-3 overall and 0-1 in conference play, while Dominican snaps a two-game losing streak to improve to 7-2 overall, 1-0 PacWest. The Cougars wrap up their first PacWest Bay Area road trip Saturday at 3 p.m. at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.