AZUSA, Calif. –- For the first 10 minutes of the season, Azusa Pacific was every bit the No. 1-ranked team that the NAIA coaches tabbed in their preseason poll, and that was all the Cougars really needed as they cruised over the final 30 minutes to a 107-64 season-opening victory over Thompson Rivers University of Kamloops, British Columbia.
Azusa Pacific scored 17 of the game’s first 19 points and was up by 20 (26-6) in a blink of an eye.
“We knew we had to get the first 5 minutes going and set up the tone for the rest of the team to do their thing,” said senior forward Colton Cornfoot, who scored 4 of his 13 points in succession to give the Cougars a 17-2 lead less than 5 minutes into the game. “The first few minutes they couldn’t do anything because our defense just locked them down.”
For the third straight year Azusa Pacific opened a season with a century-figure scoring effort, but this game was far more about defense than it was offense. The Cougars forced Thompson Rivers into a whopping 32 turnovers, including 7 in the Wolfpack’s first 13 possessions.
“This was the kind of game that you win with your defense,” said head coach Bill Odell, who has never lost a home-opener in 15 seasons at Azusa Pacific. “It wasn’t about execution at the offensive end, but rather defense. You don’t see too many games in which a team gets 20 steals like we did tonight.”
Azusa Pacific took advantage of TRU’s miscues, scoring 42 points off turnovers (as compared to the Wolfpack’s 7 points off 9 Azusa Pacific turnovers).
Thompson Rivers missed 22 of its first 31 shots, and though the Cougars didn’t torch the nets at their end of the court, they did crash the boards for a 54 caroms, including 25 on the offensive end that translated into 36 second-chance points.
In his Cougar debut, junior college All-American Demario Butler scored a team-high 17 points in just 19 minutes of play while fellow newcomer Scott Zea put in an equally efficient effort with 16 points in just 22 minutes to go along with a game-high 9 rebounds.
“Demario is exciting to watch,” said Odell, “and you can feel the electricity when he has the ball. The guys wanted to seemingly turn him into a highlight reel and forced some things at him that became turnovers instead of just letting him play.”
Thirteen different Cougars scored with 8 tallying at least 8 points. All-American forward Lance Soderberg added 11 points.
“We knew they would push tempo and we wanted to push tempo back at them and see what would happen,” said Odell. “Obviously we were deeper, so that helped us.”
Thompson Rivers, which falls to 7-4, was paced by Brent Traxel’s game-high 18 points to be the only Wolf in double figures.
“To be honest I had never heard of them,” said Cornfoot, “but when they beat Cal Baptist last night, they got our attention.”
Now 1-0 on the season, Azusa Pacific turns its attention to the best non-conference match-up in the NAIA this year when No. 2-ranked Mountain State visits the Felix Event Center Friday (Nov. 11) for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.
“This blowout won’t give us big heads,” said Cornfoot. “The guys know how good Mountain State is.”