AZUSA, Calif. – Azusa Pacific has a rival in Biola, but the Cougars have a nemesis without peer in the form of Concordia. No team bugs the Cougars and gets them off-kilter quite like Concordia. Tonight was no different.
The Eagles, who are uncharacteristically struggling this season, resembled its old self from the outset of the contest, and figuratively punched Azusa Pacific into submission with an aggressive and physical style of play. Azusa Pacific, however, offered a massive counterpunch, a roundhouse whack in the form of Josh Reisman and Tristan King, who collectively dropped Concordia to its knees and led the Cougars to a key come-from-behind 95-89 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Concordia before 1,273 in the Felix Event Center.
Reisman scored a career-high 24 points on a sizzling 10-for-12 shooting performance, and King added 19 points, including 17 in the second half, to lead the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific to its fifth straight win, which kept the front-running Cougars 2 games ahead of San Diego Christian in the race for the GSAC crown with 5 games remaining.
Concordia, which isn’t known for a deft shooting touch (currently ninth in the GSAC in field goal percentage), made its first 8 shots, including a 3-pointer by Rocky Soliday, to jump out to a surprising 19-9 lead. Though the Cougars rallied to briefly take the lead, Concordia rode its physical play and hot hand (62% first-half shooting) to a 42-36 at halftime lead.
“We challenged their manhood at halftime,” said Azusa Pacific coach Bill Odell in reference to a talk he gave his team during the intermission. “We were just way too soft in the first half. When Concordia gets the ball down low, they jump into you. We told the guys to not back off, to hold their ground.”
Not only did the Cougars hold their ground, they pushed back in the second half. Azusa Pacific opened the second frame with a 10-0 run, and held the Eagles without a field goal for more than 4 minutes while assuming a 47-44 lead, and when All-American Lance Soderberg converted a 3-point play with 13 minutes left in the game, the Cougars had 54-51 lead that it would not relinquish.
“I was tired of getting pushed around in the first half,” said Soderberg, who finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds. “I don’t why it took so long for it to click inside of me, but I had enough, so I tried to take it at them in the second half.”
The Cougars kept taking it at Concordia, building a 12-point lead at 72-60 following a Reisman jumper with 8 minutes left in the game.
“Coach has been working with me lately on my shot selection,” said Reisman, “and I think my selection was better tonight. My teammates did a good job of getting me open too.”
An old face, though, haunted Azusa Pacific down the stretch. Former Cougar Adam Greenaway, a sophomore guard who was a key reserve on Azusa Pacific’s NAIA national runner-up team last year, scored 19 second-half points, on his way to a career-high 24-point effort. He scored 18 in a 5-minute span, making 6 straight shots to rally Concordia to within a basket at 86-84 following his second trey of the mini outburst. Yet, the Eagles couldn’t catch Azusa Pacific
“We had to out-score them because we weren’t going to out-stop them,” said Odell. “Adam played great. We know he is capable of doing that because he did it for us in last year’s championship game.”
Reisman had an answer for Azusa Pacific, knocking down pull-up jumpers and driving the lane for lay-ups.
“I realized Adam was scoring on me, and it made me mad,” said Reisman. “For a second I felt it. I felt the sensation of me vs. him.”
Greenway used his athleticism to knock down long-range jumpers or drive by the Cougar defense for high-flying lay-ups. He even threw down a dunk.
“We were definitely going at each other,” said Greenaway referring to his mano-mano battle with Reisman. “He’d hit one on me, so I had to hit one on him. But I guess I was little motivated too for this game. I was here, and now he is here.”
Greenway was so hot, no one else on Concordia’s team need touch the ball, but when he did pass, he found the right shooter, Josh Kramer who buried a 3-pointer that pulled Concordia to within one at 88-87 with 77 seconds left in the game.
On the Cougars’ ensuing possession, King threaded a nifty pass to Demario Butler who converted the lay-up for a 3-point lead with under a minute to play.
Greenway finally displayed some humanness to his play when his potential game-tying 3-pointer rattled in-and- out of the basket. However, Concordia got the rebound, and Soliday had a second chance to knot the game and possibly force overtime. His corner bomb too went in-and-out, and King got the rebound.
Concordia had one last gasp to force overtime, down by 3 at 92-89 with 19 seconds left. However, Greenaway kicked the ball as he drove toward the basket, and King came up the loose ball to clinch the victory.
The game was extremely physical with 50 fouls whistled and over 60 free throws attempted. The GSAC’s 2 worst free throw shooting teams, Azusa Pacific (66%) and Concordia (64%), shot lights out at the line tonight. The Eagles converted 24-for-30 (80%) with Greenaway, a 43-percent shooter on the season, converting 8-of-10, while King answered for Azusa Pacific by making 9-of-10, all in the second half. In the second half alone the 2 teams combined for a 33-for-54 clip from the charity stripe.
“In games like these, where there are a lot fouls, the tougher team always wins,” said Cougar guard Mike Hornbuckle, who finished with 8 points including 4 successive points that put the Cougars up 58-51 for their largest lead up to that moment in the game.
Butler finished with 18 points, and King collected his first double-double as a Cougar, grabbing a game-higih 10 rebounds. Victor Nance came off the bench to tally 13 points for Concordia’s cause.
Azusa Pacific improves to a 22-3 overall, 13-2 in the GSAC. Concordia falls to 13-12 overall, 6-9 in the GSAC.