AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific built a huge first-half lead behind a hot-shooting start before holding on for a 79-69 win over Holy Names Saturday afternoon at the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars hit 18-of-25 (68 percent) from the field in the first half and led by as many as 20 points before taking a 17-point edge into halftime, although Holy Names rallied with 44 points after halftime to get as close as eight points several times. Junior guard Troy Leaf scored a game-high 21 points, including 11 in the first half, and three other Cougars were in double figures, including sophomore forward Sharif Watson’s 15-point performance on seven-of-seven shooting to go with a game-high 10 rebounds.
“We wanted to play confidently, and we wanted to play aggressively to set the tone out there, so I was very pleased with that first half,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “We executed our spacing very well, and that created opportunities for our players to make plays.”
Azusa Pacific went inside to Watson on the game’s opening possession, and his layup sparked the Cougars to an 8-0 game-opening run and an early lead which was never relinquished. After Holy Names pulled within four at 11-7, sophomore guard LyDell Cardwell and freshman forward Corey Langerveld hit consecutive three-pointers in the middle of a 10-point burst. That turned into an extended 17-2 run in a stretch lasting over five minutes to push the lead to 28-9 midway through the first half.
The Hawks responded with a 13-3 run to narrow the lead to nine points, 31-22, but Leaf knocked down a pair of free throws with 4:58 left in the half. That sparked an 11-0 run to get the lead back to 20 points, 42-22, and the Cougars took a 42-25 lead into halftime. Holy Names shot just 27 percent (nine-for-34) in the opening half.
“What we talked about before the game was how we wanted to defend and rebound, which were areas that were really a focus for us. I thought we did a nice job in those two areas,” Leslie said.
The lead stayed in double digits until Tyler Fry’s three-pointer with 6:02 left in the game pulled Holy Names within eight at 65-57. The Hawks got as close as eight points twice more, the last time with 5:02 to play after Fry knocked down two free throws. The Hawks never got closer, as the Cougars hit eight-of-10 from the free throw line down the stretch to preserve the win.
Leaf added five rebounds, three steals, and a game-high six assists to his 21-point scoring production, and Cardwell and junior guard Kevin Stafford each hit a pair of three-pointers and contributed 10 points apiece.
Led by Watson’s double-double, along with nine points and 10 rebounds from senior forward Bertram Hall, Azusa Pacific dominated the boards by a 45-31 margin. Sophomore forward Jared Zoller was one basket and two rebounds away from a double-double of his own, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds. Half of Holy Names’ 44 points of second-half scoring came off 16 Cougar turnovers, which gave Azusa Pacific a season-high 25 turnovers for the game.
“We gave up 44 points in the second half, and I’d chalk that up to our turnovers,” Leslie said. “We got a lead of 20 points several times, and we just kept coughing the ball up. We’re very fortunate that we won considering the turnovers. We’ve taken care of the ball pretty well this year, so I’d hope this is just one of those games that’s a blip on the radar.”
Holy Names was led in scoring by Harold Perry Jr., who finished with 21 points and four steals while also leading the Hawks’ rebounding effort with seven boards. No other starter scored more than four points for Holy Names, which got a 14-point effort from Josh Kasim and 11 points from Dante Robinson, both off the bench.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 6-4 overall and brings its Pacific West Conference record to 2-2. Holy Names falls to 1-12 overall, 0-5 PacWest. The Cougars are back in action Monday night, hosting Notre Dame de Namur in a rematch of NDNU’s narrow 56-53 victory in the teams’ Dec. 7 Bay Area matchup.