AZUSA, Calif. – Yes, ugly is fine when a victory is attached to it, but holiday play is about getting better.
The NAIA’s top-ranked Azusa Pacific needed 17-6 run midway through the second half to shake the doldrums and Occidental for an 89-71 nonconference victory at the Felix Event Center Tuesday evening.
Five different Cougars scored in double figures led by Scott Zea’s 15 points off the bench, but Azusa Pacific seemingly was flat throughout most of the game. Matt Oliver’s season-high 11 points, 6 of which came off a pairs of trey during the game-deciding run, got Azusa Pacific over the top and toward its ninth straight win over the NCAA Division III Tigers.
“Matt has done a nice job off the bench recently and provided us with an offensive spark,” said Odell. “That’s one of the pluses about this team is that there are people we can go to off the bench.”
Behind the dynamic inside play of Sam Better and Zach Phillips who combined for 45 of the Tiger’s 71 points, Occidental cut a 13-point halftime deficit in half and pulled to within 6 at 58-52 following a Betty jumper with just over 12 minutes to play in the game. Zea followed with a jumper and Oliver drained the first of 2 treys from the top to get the Cougars started on their run that finished with a Brice Prather lay-up and a insurmountable 75-58 advantage with 6 minutes left.
Mike Hornbuckle added 11 points, including 8 key points in the second half when the Cougar offense had gone stagnant. With a Tiger defender hanging on his side, Hornbuckle nailed a jumper in the key that put Azusa Pacific up 56-48 at the time.
“I thought Mike carried us early in the second half,” said Odell.
The Cougars led 47-34 at the half after senior guard Kasey Myers scored a season-high 9 points in just 10 minutes of play, draining a trio of 3-point baskets from the top of the key. The Cougars jetted out to a 12-2 lead to start the game and were still up 11 at 31-20 before assuming their biggest lead of the half at 37-22 following another Myers’ trey.
“Kasey made shots tonight because we ran our offense by throwing the ball first into the post,” said Odell. “Those threes were obviously big because they got us going.”
Prather finished with 11 points and 7 rebounds while Demario Butler chipped in 12 points in 16 minutes of play.
“Overall, it wasn’t a great performance by us, particularly on defense” said Odell. “We need to be getting better at this time of the year.”
With the victory Azusa Pacific improves to 6-1 while Occidental suffers its first defeat of the season and falls to 5-1.