AZUSA, Calif. – This was 16 years and 26 games in the making, and for San Diego Christian the timing could not have been any better.
Using the powerful inside play of GSAC Player of the Week Rowan Gray, the Hawks rallied from a 6-point halftime deficit to upset No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific, 62-59, in front of 532 fans at the Felix Event Center Tuesday evening.
The victory is San Diego Christian’s first win over Azusa Pacific since 1990, snapping a 26-game losing streak to the Cougars. More importantly, the victory vaults the Hawks into a first-place tie with Azusa Pacific atop of the GSAC.
Gray scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, dropping in 6-of-8 shots. He also snagged a game-high 11 rebounds. However, Rowan’s greatest contribution may have come with 3:59 left in the game when double-teamed and his back to the basket, he fired a nifty over-the-shoulder pass to a wide-open Jeremy Day who laid in the go-ahead basket that gave SDCC a 56-54 lead it would not relinquish.
Gray and Tyler Hayes drained 4 consecutive free throws in the final 90 seconds to keep Azusa Pacific at bay. The Cougars had one chance to force overtime, but Mike Hornbuckle, who canned a trey 2 minutes earlier to pull Azusa Pacific to within one at 58-57, had his 23-foot launch misfire off the back of the rim, giving the Hawks their most significant win since advancing to the NAIA Final Four in 2001.
The game was far from artistic, but rather was a defensive grind throughout the entire night. Neither team shot over 40% from the floor, and the 2 squads combined for a dismal 5-for-31 (.163) clip from the arc. The Cougars committed a season-high 19 turnovers, 10 of which came off Hawk steals, and none was bigger than Hayes’ snag of a Hornbuckle pass to the wing with 6 seconds left as the Cougars went for the victory down, 60-59.
Nonetheless, Hornbuckle tonight snapped out of the 3-game doldrums in which he had scored just 2 points over the past week-and-a-half by dropping in a team-high 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Lance Soderberg and Brice Prather each tallied 11 points while Soderberg grabbed 9 rebounds and Prather had 8.
Hayes finished with 19 points for San Diego Christian. His 24-foot bomb from the top of the arc, which came off 1 of the Hawks’ 18 offensive rebounds, pushed SDCC advantage to 48-44 with 8 minutes left and seemingly gave the Hawks hope that they could finally get the monkey off their back.
With the win, San Diego Christian improves to 13-3 overall and 7-1 in the GSAC. Azusa Pacific, which loses for the first time since Nov. 11, has its 15-game winning streak come to end and falls to 16-2 overall, 7-1 in the GSAC.