AZUSA, Calif. –- Maybe you can stop Caleb Gervin or maybe you can stop Ladrick Simon, but you can’t stop Gervin and Simon at the same time. And try as it might, the NAIA’s No. 17-ranked Biola couldn’t simultaneously clamp down both players. As a result, No. 5 Azusa Pacific held off the Eagles for a 69-64 GSAC victory in the Felix Event Center Tuesday evening.
Gervin scored 23 of his season-high 29 points in the first half to take Azusa Pacific to a 36-32 halftime lead, and Simon tallied 15 of his 17 points in the second frame to keep Biola at bay as the Cougars won for the second straight time over Biola and for the 15th time in the past 21 meetings of this storied rivalry to take a 41-40 advantage in the series history. Together Gervin and Simon scored 46 of the Cougars’ 69 points.
“I didn’t have to do anything to get the players ready tonight,” said Cougar Coach Bill Odell. “Usually I have to calm them down to play Biola, but I didn’t feel they needed that tonight.”
Gervin, who earlier in the day was named NAIA Player of the Week for his performance in last week’s victories over Fresno Pacific and Concordia, didn’t show any signs of letting up. He opened the game on fire, draining his first 5 shots, including all 3 attempts from 3-point land to carry the Cougars out of the gate. He had 11 of the Cougars’ first 14 points.
“I hit my first shot and felt good from there,” said Gervin. “I didn’t get frustrated when they went box-and-one because I know we have a good team and we have guys who can shoot.”
Biola rallied from 5 down to take its only lead of the game at 26-24 following an Andrew Zahn putback at the 7:47 mark. Gervin, though, spurred a 7-0 response, burying his third trey of the first half to give the Cougars a 31-26 cushion. His fourth 3-pointer with 14 seconds left provided the Cougars with their 4-point halftime cushion.
“I thought Biola did a good job on Ladrick in the first half,” said Odell, “but in the second half he was feeling it. I made a little adjustment at halftime and he did a good job of responding. He took Medupin away from the basket instead of posting up.”
Biola, which seemingly was at a lost to stop Gervin the first half, slapped Gary Colbert and a box-and-one on Gervin in the second half and locked down the 2-time All-GSAC pick. Gervin managed just 3 shots in the second half and only 1 in the first 17 minutes of the final frame. The 6-foot-5 Simon, though, took over, making shots from a variety spots around the key over Biola’s 6-foot-9 twin towers Abiodun Medupin and Zahn. After Biola pulled to within one with 11 minutes to play, Simon converted a conventional 3-point play, coming up with a loose ball out of a mad scramble for a lay-up and foul by Zahn.
Simon scored 7 straight to give the Cougars a 56-51 lead but Biola went to its top scorer Kellan Eckle, who led a Biola rally with 6 consecutive points to knot the game at 56-56 with 7:20 remaining. The Cougars took the lead for good on the unlikeliest of plays, a 3-pointer from the wing by freshman Lance Soderberg. Up 61-58 with 6:11 left, Azusa Pacific never trailed again. Gervin’s jumper in the key kept the lead at 3 at 65-62. Simon then canned a pair of free throws and Gervin converted 2 more at the charity stripe to assure the victory.
“It’s tough for teams to guard both of us, because Caleb is so good on the outside that it opens stuff for me on the inside,” said Simon. “And when I make my shots, it opens things for Caleb. Coach told me at halftime to do different things to get different looks. Medupin is long but is slow, so I tried to move around him.”
Biola had 4 players in double figures, led by Eckle’s 20 points. Medupin added 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, 9 of which came in the second half.
Azusa Pacific has now won 9 straight to improve to 14-2 on the season and 6-0 in the GSAC. Biola falls to 12-4 overall, 2-3 in the GSAC.