HONOLULU, Hawai‘i -- Behind an impressive three-point flurry, Azusa Pacific erased a double-digit second-half deficit, but Hawai‘i Pacific kept pounding away inside for the decisive run to defeat the Cougars, 90-84, at Moanalua High School in Honolulu.
Hawai‘i Pacific finished with a 36-18 edge in points in the paint, which is where all five baskets came from in a 10-2 run that gave HPU the lead for good and answered Azusa Pacific’s 13-3 run that tied the game at 59-59 with 10:08 to play.
“We haven’t had the focus this year to come out and respect how difficult it is to win a conference game on the road,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “We went through the motions waiting to see what would happen, and they blitzed us. Even though we responded, we were on the wrong end of things to start, and we just didn’t get enough stops.”
The Cougars got within two points twice, when junior guards Troy Leaf and Kevin Stafford hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions, but the Sea Warriors answered with three-pointers of their own each time before scoring their final 13 points of the game at the free throw line to put the game away.
Leaf led all scorers with 25 points, his eighth 20-point game of the season, but Hawai‘i Pacific’s Justin Long countered with 24 points off the bench, including four-for-four from three-point range, to lead a group of six double-digit scorers from the Sea Warriors. Leaf was five-for-11 on three-pointers, and Stafford added five treys on 10 attempts to finish with a season-high 17 points off the bench for the Cougars.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 10-8 overall and 6-6 in Pacific West Conference play, while Hawai‘i Pacific improves to 12-6 overall and 7-5 in the PacWest.
Midway through the first half, sophomore forward Jared Zoller lifted Azusa Pacific to a 17-15 lead, but Colfax Nordquist converted a pair of three-point plays in a 10-0 Hawai‘i Pacific run, and the Sea Warriors never trailed again in the game. With five minutes left in the half, the Cougars had pulled within a point, with a Stafford layup in transition cutting the HPU lead to 31-30. However, Malte Ziegenhagen answered with seven of the next nine points to help the Sea Warriors close out the half with a 15-5 run that gave them a 46-35 halftime advantage.
“They pounded us on the glass in the first half, and in that first 10 minutes we just didn’t do a very good job executing the things we talked about going into the game,” Leslie said. “They got into a rhythm at that point, and it was tough to get them out of it.”
Another Leaf three-pointer just over five minutes into the second half trimmed the margin to 51-46, but HPU padded the lead back to a 10-point cushion after Long nailed a three and Leif Rodney scored in the paint with 12:57 to play. Stafford and Leaf sparked the game-tying 13-3 run with back-to-back threes, and sophomore forward Sharif Watson completed the burst with a conventional three-point play.
Zoller and junior point guard Robert Sandoval scored 13 points each for the Cougars. Watson, who added eight points, also registered two blocked shots for his sixth straight game with at least two blocks. Azusa Pacific’s 84-point offensive output was its third-highest scoring game all year, which followed Thursday’s 82-point tally. Despite posting back-to-back 80-point games for the first time all season, the Cougars have allowed two of the four highest single-game opponent field-goal shooting percentages in defeats to BYU-Hawaii and Hawai‘i Pacific in this week’s island road trip.
“We’ve always had a bright spot in our road games, but the problem is our consistency,” Leslie said. "If we guard and defend as well as we are capable, we’re a pretty good team. Going into the last two games, we were close to leading the league in both three-point and overall field goal (percentage) defense, and we haven’t carried that over on the road. We’re not going to win games when we allow teams to shoot that well."
After Long’s 24-point performance, Hawai‘i Pacific had five other players reach double figures in scoring. Ziegenhagen scored 15 points, and Leif Rodney added 14 points and six rebounds for the Sea Warriors.
The Cougars conclude the three-game Hawaiian road trip on Monday, Feb. 3, when they visit Chaminade at 7:30 p.m. local time (9:30 p.m. Pacific).