FRESNO, Calif. – Forty-eight hours after enduring one of his poorest outings of the season, senior guard Josh Reisman turned around to post his best effort to date, scoring a team-high 18 points to lead the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 75-61 Golden State Athletic Conference victory Thursday evening in the Sunbirds’ Special Events Center.
Reisman, who was 1-for-7 with 3 turnovers and no assists in 27 minutes of Tuesday’s loss to San Diego Christian, turned around tonight to knock down 7-of-13 shots while collecting 5 rebounds. He tallied 10 second half points and calmly sank 4 free throws in the final 66 seconds to keep Fresno Pacific away.
“Josh made some crucial plays down the stretch tonight,” said Cougar coach Bill Odell. “In fact, he made some very tough plays. His coach from San Jose City drove 3 hours to watch him and Tristan (King), and I think that added some motivation to his play. He was very focused tonight.”
The Cougars led wire-to-wire, though Fresno Pacific did twice tie the score early in the game. Azusa Pacific led by as much as 17 in the second half before the Sunbirds trimmed their deficit to 6 at 63-57 with 4 minutes to go. However, Demario Butler responded with his second 3-point bomb of the half, and the Sunbirds never threatened again.
Butler finished with 14 points while Tristan King added 10 points. Fresno Pacific’s Lesego Molebatsi led all players with 21 points, including 14 in the second half.
The Cougars led 41-27 at halftime, using an 18-6 run over the final 8 minutes to open up their first double-digit lead of the game. Reisman led a balanced Cougar attack in the first half with 8 points, including 6 during the closing run. Butler, Lance Soderberg, and Colton Cornfoot each added 7 points, helping to keep the Fresno Pacific defense on a swivel as it tried to figure out who to cover.
The Cougars, who were coming off their worst shooting performance since the opening weeks of the season, quickly found their touch tonight by draining 18 of their first 31 shots, including 5 3-point baskets. A Butler trey to start the second half gave the Cougars’ their largest lead of the game at 44-27. The Cougars were still up by 17 with 14 minutes to play and held a 14-point advantage with 8 to play before the Sunbirds got physical and converted 4 free throws and a pair of 3-point shots to pull to within it 6, the closest it would get in the second half.
The Sunbirds shot just 42% (22-for-53) from the floor and were held to 61 points, a season-low offensive output at home.
“Defensively, we did a good job of getting after them,” said Odell. “We’re still not shooting well, but our defense carried us tonight.
The win is Azusa Pacific’s 29th straight victory over Fresno Pacific, and the Cougars’ 14th straight on the Sunbirds’ court. The 14-point margin of victory is the largest any of the 7 visitors to Fresno have enjoyed this year.
“I think the guys had their pride hurt Tuesday night,” said Odell, referring to the Cougars loss to San Diego Christian, their first GSAC setback this season. “They played with a lot of emotion and intensity tonight and did a better job of being ready for the game.”
With the win the Cougars improve to 17-2 on the season and take over sole possession of first place in the GSAC at 8-1, a half game ahead of idle San Diego Christian. Fresno Pacific, which came into the game having won 6 of its past 8, falls to 10-6 overall, 3-5 in the GSAC.