BELMONT, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific gave away a last-minute lead for the second straight game, resulting in a 56-53 loss to Notre Dame de Namur Saturday that left the Cougars winless after their Pacific West Conference-opening road trip to the Bay Area.
When sophomore forward Sharif Watson broke a 51-51 tie with a putback with 2:23 left, the Cougars took a two-point lead all the way into the closing moments. However, Don Washington was fouled as he made the putback after Watson blocked a layup, and he converted the three-point play to put Notre Dame de Namur in front, 54-53, with 25 seconds remaining.
Junior point guard Robert Sandoval’s three-pointer in the closing seconds was off the mark, and senior forward Tyler Monroe’s putback fell off the rim into the hands of Washington, who sank two more free throws with 2.8 seconds left. Sandoval’s halfcourt shot was in the air before time expired but off the mark, allowing Notre Dame de Namur to escape with the last-minute victory.
“We have to find out how to get stops in crunch time and deliver at the free throw line when we’re put there,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “We have to mature and develop a greater level of mental toughness to have success on the road.”
Azusa Pacific had led at halftime by six points and still led by three early in the second half until the Argonauts reeled off a 14-4 run that ended with back-to-back three-pointers that made it a 45-38 NDNU lead with 9:40 to play. The Cougars answered with an 11-1 run over the next four minutes, taking a 49-46 lead on a Sandoval jumper with 5:29 remaining. From that point on, neither team led by more than three as the lead changed hands three times in the final four minutes of the game.
“After NDNU’s run in the second half, we made adjustments in how we were attacking to get some better looks, and we were successful with those opportunities we created,” Leslie said. “We got those same looks in the last two minutes, but we just missed them. We’ve got to be able to make a shot when it counts, and we didn’t deliver down the stretch at the level it takes to pull out a game on the road.”
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 3-4 overall and 0-2 in PacWest play, while Notre Dame de Namur picks up its first conference win and improves to 2-6 overall.
Washington led the way for the Argonauts, scoring 21 points with 14 rebounds to lead all scorers and rebounders. Monroe posted team-highs of 14 points and 13 rebounds, and junior guard Troy Leaf added 13 points.
Notre Dame de Namur got on the board first to start the game with a second-chance basket, but Azusa Pacific reeled off 11 straight points and led through the rest of the half while taking a 28-22 halftime lead. Sophomore forward Jared Zoller scored all eight of his points in the first half, including a three-pointer that capped the early 11-0 run as well as another trey that gave the Cougars a 21-14 lead with 7:20 left in the half.
Two minutes later, sophomore guard LyDell Cardwell threw down the highlight of the first half when the 6-foot-2 guard got separation for a breakaway dunk over an Argonauts defender. Cardwell’s dunk gave Azusa Pacific an eight-point edge at 24-16, matching its largest lead of the half, and he finished the game with seven points.
Azusa Pacific is off until Dec. 16, when the Cougars resume PacWest play by hosting Fresno Pacific.