HONOLULU, Hawai‘i -- Wins don’t come much uglier, but Azusa Pacific will count Monday night’s 85-82 double-overtime win at Chaminade among its best victories all season.
The Cougars overcame a horrendous start and gave up comfortable leads in regulation and overtime before holding off the Silverswords in a back-and-forth flurry in the final 60 seconds of the second overtime.
“We did not protect the lead well, we had turnovers and blown defensive assignments, and with four seconds left and a three-point lead we lost their best shooter who hit the three that tied it (in the first overtime),” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “A mistake like that could have been devastating. If we wouldn’t have won this game, I don’t know how we would have responded. That plane flight home would have been miserable.”
Sophomore guard LyDell Cardwell shook the Cougars out of their funk, scoring a career-high 23 points while junior guard Troy Leaf snapped a cold shooting night with two crucial three-pointers in the second overtime to lift Azusa Pacific to the win.
The anticipated scoring duel between Leaf and Chaminade’s Lee Bailey, the second- and third-leading scorers in the Pacific West Conference this season, never materialized. Leaf hit just one of his first 12 shots from the field and finished regulation with just seven points, and Bailey finished the game with just eight points on a three-of-18 shooting night. Leaf, however, scored 10 of his 17 points in the two overtime periods.
“We were committed coming into this game that Bailey was going to have to settle for contested mid-range shots,” Leslie said. “Bailey had a very rough time getting into the lane and his three-pointers weren’t in his sweet spot. We needed him to take low percentage shots and be uncomfortable.”
Leaf’s last three-pointer came with just under a minute left in double-overtime, breaking a 78-78 tie that set off the wild final minute. A Bailey jumper pulled Chaminade within one, 81-80, with 36 seconds left, before junior guard Kevin Stafford knocked down free throws for an 83-80 cushion. After Kiran Shastri’s jumper with 20 seconds to play trimmed the Cougar lead to 83-82, and a jump ball with 15 seconds remaining gave the Silverswords the ball with a chance to take the lead. Sophomore forward Sharif Watson boarded a missed jumper in the closing seconds and hit two free throws to extend the margin to 85-82, and he blocked Kuany Kuany’s desperation shot at the buzzer to seal the win.
Kuany Kuany was unstoppable on the boards, tallying 22 rebounds to go with a game-high 23 points while leading Chaminade to a huge 56-40 rebounding advantage over Azusa Pacific. With Bailey struggling against the Cougar defense, the Silverswords got 21 points off the bench from James Harper, who nailed the first four three-pointers he attempted.
Watson opened the first overtime with a three-point play, which was followed by Leaf floating through the lane for two more to push the lead to 65-60. A Cardwell three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and 1:22 left in the first OT gave the Cougars a seven-point lead, and a pair of free throws from Leaf kept the lead at seven, 73-66, with just 20 seconds left. Chaminade scored two quick baskets, both on Kuany Kuany putbacks sandwiched around an Azusa Pacific turnover. With just four seconds left, the Cougars turned the ball over again on the inbounds pass, allowing Kiran Shastri enough time to drill a desperation three at the buzzer to tie the game at 73-73 and force a second overtime.
“I was very impressed with how we gathered ourselves at the end of regulation and the first overtime, because it would have been easy to come in to overtime flat,” Leslie said. “We responded and answered.”
Chaminade jumped out to an early 22-10 lead with 7:30 left in the first half, at which point Leslie burned his third timeout of the game, and his team responded. Cardwell scored seven of the Cougars’ next nine points to spark an 18-5 run over the final 7:30 of the first half. Watson’s dunk and three-point play in the final 1:05 of the half gave Azusa Pacific a 28-27 halftime edge.
“We started flat again, and I was ready to use all five of my timeouts in that first 10 minutes of the game if that’s what it took just to get us going,” Leslie said. “It was all about competing. We were silent on defense, and offensively we were missing layups. You don’t get hustle plays unless you’re completely engaged and you sell out.”
Thanks to Cardwell scoring on four consecutive possessions midway through the second half, including back-to-back three-pointers 25 seconds apart, the Cougars went on an 18-10 run over the first nine minutes of the second half for a 46-37 advantage with 11 minutes left in regulation. Chaminade responded with a 12-2 run to regain a one-point lead after James Harper drilled consecutive three-pointers around the eight-minute mark.
“Chaminade defended really well, and they made us make plays. I’m kind of in shock we answered everything they did,” Leslie said.
Harper hit his fourth straight trey with 5:56 remaining, putting Chaminade in front (52-50) for the next four minutes until Leaf tied the game at 58-58 with less than two minutes left in regulation. Watson finished off a lob from junior point guard Robert Sandoval with a dunk that tied the game at 60-60 with a minute remaining. The Cougars had a chance to win it in regulation, but a three-point attempt was off the mark, as was a putback attempt from Watson.
Cardwell hit nine-of-12 shots from the field, including four-of-seven three-pointers and a perfect five-of-five on two-point attempts. Leaf was second in scoring, tallying 17 points despite his slow start, and junior forward Andy Jones also posted a career scoring high, finishing with 15 points while Watson added another 15.
Azusa Pacific’s last double-overtime victory was a 108-104 win at Point Loma Dec. 11, 2010, and the Cougars are now 1-1 in overtime games played this year.
The win wraps up a stretch of three games in five days in Hawai‘i for Azusa Pacific, which improves to 11-8 overall and 7-6 in PacWest play. Chaminade, which sits in second place in the PacWest standings, falls to 12-8 overall, 9-3 PacWest.
After dropping games at Hawaii Pacific and BYU-Hawaii, the Cougars return to California for Saturday's highly-anticipated visit to California Baptist, whose only blemish this season came to Azusa Pacific earlier.