BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Junior forward Fabian Pinnock came off the bench to score 16 of his game-high 24 points in the first half, and Fred Nichols scored 5 straight points with less than a minute left to lead the NCAA Division II No. 14-ranked Cal State Bakersfield to an 88-77 victory over Azusa Pacific in a match-up of California’s 2 winningest basketball programs over the past 10 years.
The game was tight throughout the first 38 minutes of play, but the Roadrunners used its size, quickness and 4 key Cougar turnovers to keep Azusa Pacific scoreless in the final 2:24 of the game. Cal State Bakersfield, which features a pair 6-foot-9 players, out-scored the Cougars 56-34 in the paint and repeatedly took advantage of the Cougars in clutch moments.
“We gave them too many easy baskets,” said Cougar coach Bill Odell. “They had too many points in the paint.”
Ladrick Simon led Azusa Pacific with 22 points, but fouled out with just under 2 minutes left on an illegal screen with the Cougars down 81-77. For Simon it was his third straight 20-point game, a first in his career. Jeff Staniland added 17 points, 13 of which came at the free throw line.
Down 75-67 with 5:21 remaining in the game, Azusa Pacific slapped on a full-court press that produced 4 Roadrunner turnovers in 40 seconds. As a result, the Cougars rallied to within 2 at 79-77 following a pair of Staniland free throws with 2:24 to play. Azusa Pacific then had the chance to take the lead with 1:50 remaining, however, Ryan Dillon mistook the NBA 3-point arc the college one and air-balled a long-distance jumper. Azusa Pacific never scored again and Nichols converted a conventional 3-point play and buried another pair of free throws with 36 seconds left to ice the game at 85-77.
The Cougars drained 6 of their first 9 shots to get the early control of the game, leading by as much as 5 at 23-18. Simon led the Cougars out of the game, tallying 8 of his 12 first-half points in the first 7 minutes of play. Bakersfield, which committed 14 first-half turnovers, settled down and used an 18-5 run to not only assume its first lead of the game but run out to a 8-point cushion at 36-28 following a Fred Nichols lay-up. The Cougars narrowed the gap to 42-40 at the half.
As they did to start the game, the Cougars opened the second half on fire and quickly erased the halftime deficit, assuming several 1-point leads in the first 5 minutes. The Roadrunners took the lead for good on a Damari Akins 3-point play with 14:09 remain, but they could never pull away from Azusa Pacific, which stayed 5 to 7 points most of the way.
Down the stretch, Azusa Pacific didn’t help its cause, uncharacteristically missing 7 second-half frees and committing 3 turnovers in the final 99 seconds of the game. Cal State Bakersfield out-rebounded Azusa Pacific, 42-26, which in part explained the Roadrunners 21 second-chance points.
“We out-executed them tonight,” said Odell, “and everything we called seem to work. We missed some free throws in the wrong spots, but in the end their inside guys were just way too powerful and athletic for us.”
With the victory, Cal State Bakersfield improves to 2-0 while Azusa Pacific falls to 5-2.