AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific earned a pivotal Pacific West Conference victory over Dominican Tuesday night, posting a 71-64 win to avenge the Cougars’ conference-opening loss to the Penguins in December.
In the teams’ first meeting this year, Azusa Pacific squandered an eight-point second-half lead, but this time the Cougars made their move after halftime and pushed the advantage into double digits with a 24-10 run lasting over 13 minutes at the start of the second half.
The victory, Azusa Pacific’s fifth in six games overall and its fifth straight at home, lifts the Cougars to 8-5 on the season and 4-3 in PacWest play heading into a crucial road matchup at Point Loma Friday night.
“We have a lot of basketball left to play this season, and I think one or two games might end up being the difference between a second- or third-place finish and the bottom half of the conference standings,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “We can’t afford to play with fire. We need to go out each day with a focus on the next opponent. We picked up a game on Dominican tonight, and now we turn around to play Point Loma which is right there with us in the standings.”
Junior guard Troy Leaf scored seven of his game-high 17 points during the run, which junior guard Kevin Stafford finished off with a three-pointer that gave the Cougars a 59-46 lead with 7:24 to play. Senior forward Tyler Monroe answered scores on consecutive Dominican possessions after that, and Monroe added two more points in the paint for the third consecutive Azusa possession to give the Cougars their largest lead of the game, 65-51, with less than five minutes remaining.
“Getting some positive possessions to start the second half was big for us,” Leslie said. “At about the eight-minute mark, we had players start making some plays. We had good spacing, made some good reads, and made some good tough finishes that got us the double-figure separation we couldn’t get the last time we played Dominican.”
It took Dominican another three minutes just to chip the deficit down into single digits, when Devin Golston had a steal and layup that cut the Azusa Pacific lead to 65-57 with just 1:32 left in the game. However, Stafford hit a pair of free throws with a minute left to extend the lead to 10, and Leaf’s two free throws with 14 seconds to play extended a six-point lead into a 69-61 margin.
The Cougars had two other players in double figures along with Leaf, who led all scorers with 17 points along with game-highs of four assists and three steals. Stafford hit three-of-six three-pointers to finish with 11 points, and Monroe scored 10 points off the bench to lead his team to a 29-9 edge in bench scoring.
“Any good team is going to need production from more than a couple of guys,” Leslie said. “We need multiple guys stepping up, and it was nice for that to happen tonight.”
Dominican, which opened PacWest play with five wins in six games, has now dropped three straight games to fall to 11-6 overall and 5-4 in the PacWest. The Penguins were led by Myles Carrillo, who hit the buzzer-beating overtime game-winner against the Cougars in the conference opener. He collected team-highs of 16 points and eight rebounds, hitting four-of-six from three-point range, but no other Penguin shot over 50 percent from the field in the game.
Azusa Pacific led for most of the opening half, answering Dominican’s game-opening trey with an 11-0 run to take a lead that lasted until the final two minutes of the half. The lead was still at seven after a pair of Jared Zoller free throws with 3:28 to play, but Carrillo led the Penguins with five points of a 10-0 run that gave Dominican a 36-33 lead with less than a minute left in the half. Sharif Watson’s putback in the closing seconds trimmed Dominican’s halftime lead to 36-35.
Carrillo led all first-half scorers with 11 points, while sophomore guard LyDell Cardwell hit three treys in the opening half to lead the Cougars with nine points off the bench. Watson who finished with four points and five rebounds, also made his presence felt at the defensive end with four first-half blocks.
Senior forward Bertram Hall was Azusa Pacific’s rebounding leader with seven, and junior point guard Robert Sandoval came off the bench to add seven points, four assists, and a steal.