AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior forward Tyler Monroe made up for lost time Thursday night, scoring a season-high 22 points off the bench to lead Azusa Pacific to a decisive 85-69 victory over BYU-Hawaii.
Monroe stayed home from the Cougars’ three-game road trip to Hawai‘i two weeks ago to be with his pregnant wife, who gave birth to the couple’s son just three days ago. Despite practicing just once this week and running without much sleep, Monroe’s presence inside gave Azusa Pacific a boost it didn’t have two weeks prior when BYU-Hawaii nailed 17 three-pointers in a 105-82 win over the Cougars.
“It’s been pretty exhausting, but this felt good. I got a little break when the team was gone in Hawai‘i, and that gave me some much-needed rest,” Monroe said. “Bouncing back from that made me feel a little more fresh and gave me a little extra bounce. My role is to bring in some energy, and I love it because it gets the crowd involved and helps me play better.”
Led by Monroe, who was 10-for-12 from the field and just two points off his career scoring high, Azusa Pacific dominated the inside game Thursday night, holding Seasiders’ 6-foot-10 center DeAndre Medlock to just four points and two rebounds.
“Even though I wasn’t there in person for that first game against BYU-Hawaii, our coaching staff always does a great job of preparing us for what we’re going to face; I knew exactly what they were going to do when Medlock got the ball, and that made my job easier,” Monroe said.
Senior forward Bertram Hall helped the cause inside, scoring 13 points with five rebounds as the Cougars piled up a 44-18 edge in scoring in the paint.
“Bertram and Tyler were fantastic in their finishing, and a lot of it had to do with our spacing,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “We spread the floor really well, and when we drove we had good floor balance. Our entire frontcourt was very patient in letting the game come to them.”
Azusa Pacific’s junior backcourt duo of Robert Sandoval and Troy Leaf generated a combined 28 points, 15 assists, and five steals with just one turnover each, with Sandoval tallying 15 points and eight assists while Leaf added 13 points and seven assists. Junior guard Kevin Stafford was a perfect four-for-four, including a trio of three-pointers, for an 11-point effort that gave the Cougars five players in double figures.
After shooting 52 percent (14-for-27) in the first half to enjoy a 10-point halftime lead, Azusa Pacific was even better after the break, hitting 67 percent (16-for-24) from the field in the second half to finish the game shooting a season-high 59 percent.
BYU-Hawaii’s only lead was a 2-0 edge, but it was quickly erased by two Stafford threes on back-to-back possessions and a Monroe trey the next time down for a lightning-quick 9-0 run. After Luke Aston hit a three for the Seasiders to cut the lead to 9-5, the Cougars reeled off another seven in a row to take their first double-digit lead of the game, 16-5. Monroe scored three times in the final two minutes of the first half, including a thunderous dunk with less than a minute left to help Azusa Pacific take a 34-24 lead into halftime.
“Tyler’s been all over the place these last few weeks, and I think tonight was an outlet for him to just be able to go out and play,” Leslie said. “I was proud of him defensively for the way he anticipated and got to his spots, and it was an unexpected boost for him to play the way he did simply because we weren’t sure what he would be able to do with just one practice this week. He gave us a huge shot in the arm and was a force to be reckoned with.”
Another Monroe dunk with 13:33 left to play in the game capped an 18-7 run that pushed the lead to 52-33 and put the game well out of reach. The Cougars enjoyed a 20-point margin on two separate occasions, and the closest BYU-Hawaii got after the opening minute of the second half was 10 points.
BYU-Hawaii was led in scoring by Cory Lange, who scored 23 points and sank all 13 of his free-throw attempts. Aston was the Seasiders’ only other double-digit scorer, finishing with 13 points on five-of-five shooting which included three treys.
“Our focus defensively was on being more disruptive to get them uncomfortable at the three-point line, because they can be explosive offensively,” Leslie said. “We had to get their guards out of rhythm to take away the touches their post players got, because their bigs are such efficient scorers. It’s tough to take away the three and the posts, but we had a game plan to do it and the guys executed it really well.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 12-8 overall and 8-7 in Pacific West Conference play, while BYU-Hawaii drops to 11-11 overall, 9-7 in the PacWest. The Cougars host two more PacWest programs from Hawai‘i over the next four days, taking on Hawai‘i Pacific Saturday night and Hawai‘i Hilo Monday.