SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Playing a rare early-evening game at the request of Academy of Art University, Azusa Pacific never trailed as it claimed an 80-64 win over the Urban Knights to turn a perfect 4-0 homestand into a season-long five-game winning streak Thursday evening at Kezar Pavilion.
Senior forward Bertram Hall scored a career-high 23 points, hitting nine-of-11 shots from the field while grabbing seven rebounds. He was joined by three other Cougars in double figures, as sophomore forward Sharif Watson tallied 12 points with a team-high eight rebounds while junior guard Troy Leaf scored all 12 of his points on three-pointers, hitting four-of-six from long range. Sophomore forward Jared Zoller added 10 points off the bench.
“We’re realizing our identity, and even though our games haven’t been as pretty as we’d like them to go, we’ve been executing and showing a lot of mental toughness and poise in some key spots,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “We have different guys stepping up and doing what it takes to get it done.”
Despite being out-rebounded by a 36-31 margin, the Cougars still finished with a 20-12 scoring edge in second chance points. In addition, Azusa Pacific committed only 10 turnovers while forcing 18, the widest turnover margin the Cougars have produced all year since the season opener. As a result, Azusa Pacific enjoyed a 23-13 advantage in points off turnovers.
“One of the things I kept harping on the team during the year was maintaining our energy throughout games, to not allow our mistakes to give up easy momentum plays and just make the other team make plays,” Leslie said. “They’re a good team at home, so we knew coming into this game we would have to play well. I thought we executed very well, and we were consistent all-around on the defensive side. We showed consistency and toughness throughout, and turnovers and free throws on the road are very big keys.”
A Zoller three-pointer with 4:08 left in the first half sparked an 11-2 run to close out the first half, turning a 29-28 lead into a double-digit halftime lead at 40-30. In that opening half, Hall hit five-of-six shots for 13 points and four boards, keeping his team afloat while the rest of the team was hitting at just a 35 percent (eight-for-23) clip from the field.
“We got the shots we wanted in the first half, but we just weren’t hitting from outside,” Leslie said. “Bert was fantastic in keeping us rolling, and during that run at the end of the half we just hit some shots. We gave up a lot on the boards early, but we cleaned that up, and that was the story of the first half.”
In the second half, Academy of Art pulled within five points at the 16-minute mark, cutting the lead to 45-40 on an Alexis Moore jumper. Leaf, who had just knocked down a three-pointer for his first points less than a minute earlier, sank three more during a 14-0 burst that gave Azusa Pacific its largest lead of the game at 59-40 with 13:03 to play. The Urban Knights scored eight in a row to get back within 11, but sophomore guard LyDell Cardwell’s three-pointer at 10 minutes to go turned it back into a 14-point cushion, and the Cougars led by at least a dozen the rest of the way.
With the win, Azusa Pacific has won five in a row to improve to 16-9 overall and 12-7 in the PacWest, while Academy of Art falls to 6-20 overall, 4-15 PacWest. The Cougars wrap up the regular season with a 3 p.m. visit to Holy Names on Saturday.