AZUSA, Calif. –- Battled-tested Azusa Pacific, which has already played 6 nationally-ranked teams this season, rose to the occasion again and perhaps played its best game of the season to knock off the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked and previously undefeated Concordia, 97-86, Saturday evening in the Felix Event Center.
Other than the first 4 minutes of the game, the No. 7-ranked Cougars held the lead throughout the contest, pushing its lead to as much as 14 at one point, before settling for the program’s first-ever victory over a No. 1-ranked team. A trio of Cougars combined for 67 of the team’s 97 points, each with 20-point outings. Senior guard Jeff Staniland led the way with 24 points, 12 of which came at the charity stripe.
“We’re a little more used to these kind of games,” Azusa Pacific Coach Bill Odell assessed afterwards. “Yet, I’ve been saying for 38 years, no one game is bigger than another. We have to be consistent.”
Two-time All-GSAC guard Caleb Gervin tallied 23 points, including 14 in the second half. With just under 6 minutes left in the game, Concordia twice pulled to within 6 points, but each time Gervin nailed perimeter jumpers, including a trey to keep the Eagles at bay.
“All year long we’ve been in tough games and tough situations,” said Gervin, who had a complete game that included 6 steals, 5 assists and 2 blocks as well. “We’ve gelled together as a team. We’re battled-tested and have played a tough schedule, getting us ready to play a team like Concordia.”
Junior forward Brett Michel scored a season-high 20 points, 14 in the second half and 8 in the last 4 minutes, constantly frustrating Concordia’s bid to get back into the game with a trio of fade-away baseline jumpers
“I’ve been working on being more aggressive,” said the 6-foot-6 Michel. “I had a miss-match down there (vs. 6-foot-1 Jeremy Groth) and wanted to get position to take advantage of it. The guards did a great job getting me the ball in perfect spots.”
Concordia was led by Ed Fontaine’s game-highs 26 points and 12 rebounds. He registered 19 points in the second half, including 9 in one stretch in which he led Concordia back from a 70-56 deficit to within 6 at 75-69 with 5:25 remaining.
Azusa Pacific held a comfortable 47-36 lead at the half after draining 17-of-32 (.531) shots, including 4 from beyond the 3-point arc. Ladrick Simon and Staniland carried the Cougars by combining for 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting. With Azusa Pacific down 5-0 in the opening minutes, Simon keyed an 11-0 Cougar run with back-to-back jumpers. A Simon lay-up gave the Cougars their first double-digit lead at 23-12 with 10:29 to play. From there the Cougars kept that cushion near double-digits the rest of the half, converting 6 straight free throws down the stretch to keep the Eagles at bay.
Simon finished with 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting, converting his first 7 attempts of the game.
Concordia ruled the glass, out-rebounding Azusa Pacific a whopping 42-24. However, the Cougars knocked down their shots (33-for-54 for the game) and handled the ball, committing just 10 turnovers against Concordia’s pressure defense. The Cougars, who are fourth in the NAIA in free throw shooting (.754), canned 25-of-28 attempts during the game.
Azusa Pacific, which has now won 14 straight over Concordia, holds sole possession of first place in the GSAC, improving to 13-2 overall, 5-0 in the GSAC. Concordia has its school-record 15-game winning streak snapped and falls to 15-1 overall, 3-1 in the GSAC.