AZUSA, Calif. --- This was not for the faint of heart. In fact, to survive a game like this, one must have a heart like Caleb Gervin. And thick skin wouldn’t hurt either. Gervin, a senior point guard, carried the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific to an 86-81 overtime victory over No. 12 Faulkner in the opening round of the NAIA Shootout Monday evening.
However, before he could be the hero, Gervin was nearly the goat that cost Azusa Pacific a 9-point lead and the game. Given a reprieve, he scored 10 of the Cougars’ first 12 points in overtime to lift the Cougars to their second straight victory over Faulkner, a school in Montgomery, Ala., which with Azusa Pacific has quickly established one of the NAIA’s best intersectional rivalries over the past 4 years.
Faulkner guard Jonathan Battle, who had locked horns all night with Gervin, capped the Eagles’ 9-point comeback by burying a 3-pointer with 37.7 seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 70 apiece. Gervin then blundered the Cougars’ chance at a game-winning shot by driving the gut with 11 seconds left and throwing up a cock-eyed shot that never drew iron. Faulkner regained possession of the ball with 8 seconds still to play and a chance to steal victory. However, Battle, who had already drained a game-high 3 treys on the night, missed a long 3 at buzzer and the Cougars, especially Gervin, gladly escaped into their first overtime session of the season.
Made well aware of his near-fatal miscue by Cougar Coach Bill Odell, Gervin refused to wilt, scoring 10 straight points in overtime, including 2 on a monstrous ally-oop dunk and then 3 more off a triple from the left corner to spur Azusa Pacific a 77-71 lead with 3 minutes remaining.
“I know I’m not a selfish player but sometimes I make bad decisions,” said Gervin. “I had to put it behind me and play basketball. It was a matter of me stepping up and being the leader that I’m supposed to be.”
Gervin finished with a season-high 28 points (he also had 28 earlier this year against No. 9-ranked Union), to go along with 4 assists and 3 steals.
After the Cougars struggled through a first half in which they missed 21 of 30 shots, including numerous lay-ups, to find themselves down 31-28, Gervin carried the Cougars out of the gate to the start the second half. He nailed 2 quick jumpers and then his 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Azusa Pacific a 40-37 lead just 5 minutes into the second half, the Cougars’ first lead since a 21-20 advantage with just over 6 minutes left in the first half.
Azusa Pacific was in the midst of a 15-4 run, the first swing for either team on the evening. The game, which was a rematch of a classic from the quarterfinals of the 2001 NAIA championship tournament in Tulsa, Okla., featured 12 ties and 9 lead changes. The Cougars seemingly took control at 59-50 with 8 minutes to play. In true championship form, though, Faulkner answered with its first run, a 15-1 verdict that gave the Eagles a 65-60 lead following a Ben Baxter trey with 5:49 to play.
Behind senior forward Ladrick Simon, Azusa Pacific answered Faulkner’s challenge and worked itself back into the lead, taking a 68-67 lead on a Simon jumper with 2:25 remaining. Junior Danny Rosales, a 57-percent free throw shooter on the season, converted a pair of free throws with 65 seconds left to give the Cougars’ a 70-67 lead, setting up Battle’s overtime-forcing 3-pointer.
“I thought this was a very good game,” said Odell. “There were 2 or 3 times Faulkner could have quit but didn’t, and there were opportunities for us to quit and we didn’t.”
One of those opportunities for Faulkner to roll over came when senior All-American and 2001 NAIA Tournament MVP Paul Little fouled out with a minute remaining in regulation.
“I told our guys all along that Faulkner is much more than just Paul Little,” said Odell. “They are very crisp at how they run their offense and their defensive intensity took us out of what we wanted to do on numerous occasions.”
Little finished with 18 points and a game-high 8 rebounds in 21 minutes of play. He was saddled with 3 first-half fouls but didn’t pick up his fourth until 8 minutes left in regulation. Battle finished with 11 points while Donta Frazier, who like Little was playing Azusa Pacific for the fourth time in 4 years, added 10 points.
Simon finished with 19 points, 13 in the second half, and a team-high 7 rebounds. Jeff Staniland added 10 points, 4 of which came in the final 28 seconds of the game, as he kept Faulkner from getting any closer than 4 points in the game’s waning moments. Staniland also had a game-high 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Rosales chipped in with 10 points.
The Cougars forced Faulkner into 26 turnovers, including 14 in the first half. Yet, the Eagles controlled the glass, out-rebounding Azusa Pacific, 44-31, scoring 18 points off 14 offensive rebounds.
“I thought we showed a lot of character tonight against a very good team,” added Odell. “You schedule games like these against Faulkner to get you better and better.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 7-2 on the season. Faulkner falls to 5-3. The NAIA Shootout continues on Tuesday (Dec.17), when Faulkner takes on Christian Heritage at 5:30 p.m. while Azusa Pacific hosts Knoxville (Tenn.) at 7:30 p.m. In a game earlier today, Knoxville downed Christian Heritage, 82-74.