AZUSA, Calif. -- For the second time this season, Notre Dame de Namur made life inside the paint difficult for Azusa Pacific’s big men, but sophomore shooting guard LyDell Cardwell scored a career-high 19 points to play a crucial role for the Cougars to secure a season series split with Monday night’s 69-59 win over Notre Dame de Namur.
Cardwell scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half, including a pair of three-pointers during a 14-4 game-turning run that flipped a one-point deficit into a nine-point advantage at 55-46 with 8:25 remaining. He added another bucket during that run, easily surpassing his previous career scoring high of 10 points, which he set just two days earlier in a 10-point win over Holy Names.
“I always look forward to the second game against a team because it’s an opportunity to see what type of improvement or development the team has made,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “Notre Dame de Namur is tough to play against, and they represent a bad matchup for us in several respects, but we finally started creating our own opportunities tonight by being tough. That was an area we really needed to grow, and it was nice to see that happen.”
Cardwell’s scoring outburst off the bench couldn’t have come at a better time, rallying his team from behind after the Cougars had already erased a four-point deficit earlier in the second half with a quick burst of seven consecutive points. Junior guard Troy Leaf, who finished with 13 points, scored four points during the run, including a pair of free throws for a 41-38 lead with 15:58 to play, but NDNU held him scoreless the rest of the way.
“We played a good second half defensively, but offensively they weren’t going to let Troy beat them tonight,” Leslie said. “We had to get to those next-level reads and plays, and that was what gave the opportunity for other guys to step up and score for us down the stretch. We have to get efficient minutes out of our bench, and the type of production we saw tonight was a huge boost.”
Azusa Pacific also overcame a huge rebounding disparity at halftime, turning around the Argonauts’ 23-11 halftime rebounding margin to a manageable 38-31 deficit for the game. Forwards Bertram Hall and Tyler Monroe combined for 11 of the Cougars’ 20 second-half rebounds, and Monroe led all rebounders with nine for the game while Hall finished with eight.
In addition to meeting the challenge on the boards, Azusa Pacific also halted its progression of four consecutive games with an increase in turnovers. After committing 25 turnovers Saturday against Holy Names, the Cougars matched a season-low with just eight giveaways to the Argonauts Monday night.
Notre Dame de Namur was led in scoring by Micah Dunhour, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Simon Enciso added 15 points while hitting four-of-10 three-pointers. Forward Don Washington, who registered season-highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds when he led NDNU to a three-point win over the Cougars when the teams met in the Bay Area on Dec. 7, finished with eight points and four boards. The Argonauts’ trio of leading scorers Monday night combined to shoot 15-for-39 (38 percent) from the field, and NDNU got just 16 more points from its other six players.
The game was tied at halftime, despite Azusa Pacific opening the game on a 12-3 run and leading by as many as 12 at 19-7 with 12:29 left in the first half. Seven different Cougars scored in those first seven minutes, and at the midway point of the half the teams were tied in rebounds with nine each.
However, over the next 10 minutes leading into halftime, NDNU out-rebounded the Cougars by a 14-2 margin. The Argonauts used an 18-6 run over an eight-minute stretch to tie the game at 25-25 with 4:14 left, although Azusa Pacific never let them take the lead before ending the half tied at 33-33.
“I have to give that team credit,” Leslie said. “That end of the first half, they just wanted it a lot more than we did. When they switched from zone to man, we did not respond well, and offensively we started settling. It totally zapped our energy defensively, which is disappointing because we defended great to start the game.”
Although the Cougars had just two who reached double figures in scoring, five others registered between six and nine points. Junior guard Kevin Stafford drilled a pair of three-pointers and finished with nine, while Monroe added eight points to go with his game-high nine rebounds.
With the win, Azusa Pacific is now 7-4 overall and 3-2 in Pacific West Conference play as the Cougars head into a Saturday matchup on the road against defending conference champion Dixie State, which has won or shared four consecutive league titles and is currently ranked seventh nationally in NCAA Division II.
“If we want to give ourselves a chance to win at Dixie on the road, it needs to be our best game of the year,” Leslie said. “This is an opportunity for us as a program that wants to be at the top of the PacWest and compete for the league title moving forward, and there’s no better place to see if we’re going to be in that mix than to go on the road and beat a top-10 team on their home floor. They are quite possibly the best offensive team we’ve played in years, so it’s a challenge we’re certainly looking forward to.”
Notre Dame de Namur, which won back-to-back home games before Christmas, has now lost three straight on the road this month to fall to 3-9 overall and 2-4 in PacWest play.