AZUSA, Calif. – Four different Cougars registered some sort of season-high statistic to lead the NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 109-82 victory over Christian Heritage before a crowd of 993 in the Felix Event Center Friday night.
Senior guard Jeff Staniland led the way, tallying a career-high 27 points and paced a hot-shooting set of Cougars by nailing 8-of-13 shots, including 3-of-5 from the 3-point arc. Ryan Dillon drained a season-best 19 points, 14 of which came in the first half when he buried 3 of his 4 treys. Caleb Gervin, the Cougars’ top scorer (18.4 avg.) tossed in 22 points, but just as important he grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds. Junior forward Brett Michel was the main benefactor of the Cougars’ hot shooting, handing out a career- best 10 assists on the night.
Azusa Pacific shot 62% (39-for-63) from the floor, including a 13-for-23 (57%) from the 3-point line.
“We had a little discussion on Wednesday about competing,” said Cougar Coach Bill Odell, who acknowledged that Azusa Pacific had been less than sharp in its past 3 games. “I thought we competed well tonight. The guys knew that Christian Heritage can beat anybody in the GSAC, and they were a little more focused tonight.”
With the Cougars down 8-6 early in the game, Dillon sparked a 10-0 Azusa Pacific run with the first of his 3 first-half treys. Ladrick Simon capped the run with a dunk that put the Cougars up 16-8. Azusa Pacific got its first double-digit cushion following a Staniland 3-ball that gave Azusa Pacific a 27-16 margin. The Cougars led by as much as 14 (44-30) before settling for the 52-39 lead at halftime.
“We expected a war because that team prides itself on playing hard,” said Staniland. “They were undermanned without Salschieder but if we always come out with that kind of intensity we usually produce good things. These next few weeks are going to be tough and we can’t take a night off. I was proud of our guys and how they played tonight.”
Led by Gervin, who scored the Cougars’ first 12 points of the second half, Azusa Pacific went on a 25-6 run to open the second half and assume a 77-45 lead with 12:39 left in the game. Following a Matt Moore jumper, the Cougars found themselves up 91-49 with still 9 minutes to play.
Christian Heritage was hamstrung from the start of the game. The Hawks’ and the GSAC’s leading scorer Keith Salscheider (19.0 avg.) did not play because of strained knee ligaments suffered in practice on Thursday. In his place, Patrick Robinson scored a team-high 25 points while collecting 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
“It’s a whole different dimension for them without Salschieder,” said Odell, “and of course that helped us tonight.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 19-3 overall, 11-1 in the GSAC, and for the moment takes a half-game lead over top-ranked Concordia, which plays tomorrow night. With the loss, Christian Heritage falls to 12-10 overall, 6-5 in the GSAC.